ALAJUELA, Costa Rica – History has been made, but the Montreal Impact hope there is more to come.
A Canadian club had never qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League Final prior to Tuesday night, but the Impact did just that despite a 4-2 defeat, capitalizing on the away goals tiebreaker when the two-legged series ended 4-4 on aggregate.
It was a nervy affair, with Jonathan McDonald scoring the fourth Alajuelense goal in the 93rd minute, bringing back memories of the Impact's 2009 collapse against Santos Laguna in Mexico to the forefront of Impact supporters' minds. But referee Joel Aguilar ended the encounter soon after, leaving the Montreal players to realize what’s coming next: they will take part in their first CCL final, either against another Costa Rican side – Herediano – or Mexican giants Club America.
“We might have a couple of beers after the game, but we know we’re in for a long one, come the next series of two games,” Impact midfielder Dilly Duka told reporters after the memorable encounter. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. Both teams are going to be up for the finals. We’ve just got to pace ourselves, and do what we did here and against Pachuca [in the quaterfinals].”
The achievement started with quieting the raucous Alajuelense crowd, if only for a dozen minutes, as Jack McInerney slammed home a Dominic Oduro low cross in the 42nd minute.
But the roar was deafening when Pablo Gabas’ free kick hit twine two minutes after the break. Waves of red and black started crashing down on the Montreal area.
“We started the second half, and I felt the fast goal kind of gave them life,” head coach Frank Klopas told reporters. “They were right back into the game. If we’d held out a little bit longer, it would have been much easier.”
Montreal switched things up, bringing on Andres Romero and Patrice Bernier. Both players combined for Montreal’s second goal. Klopas quipped that the coach “always looks good” when substitutions turn out that well, but gave all credit to his players.
“I think we made the moves at the right moment, when they went in, but they did the job,” Klopas said. “I did feel that, with them playing a little more direct, we changed the system a little bit. Patrice coming in and Mallace being a little bit deeper helped us with those balls in the pockets, and Patrice is an experienced player. He gave us more quality on the ball. Romero was fresh.”
The reward is a date with either Herediano, who are up 3-0 from the first leg, or regional powerhouses América, the five-time winners who will be looking to pull off an epic comeback this Wednesday.
“Obviously, going to an environment like Mexico City isn't ideal,” McInerney said when asked about the potential opponents. “But we’re just enjoying the moment, and we’ll focus on that tomorrow.”