Champions League: The final that almost never happened – Montreal Impact recall close call in ACC

MEXICO CITY – FC Edmonton fans are still bitter about this.

It was May 14, 2014, and the NASL’s Eddies were about to upset the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo and qualify for the final of the Amway Canadian Championship.

The aggregate scoreline was 4-4, enough for Edmonton to advance on the away goals rule after they won 2-1 at home in the first leg.

But then, deep into stoppage time, Montreal’s Hernan Bernardello took a free kick, Heath Pearce flicked it on and the ball caught the arm of Edmonton’s Kareem Moses.

Or, was it his shoulder? Either way, it led referee Drew Fischer to call the handball and point to the spot.

Edmonton players surrounded Fischer to protest the call, but to no avail. Patrice Bernier coolly converted the ensuing penalty kick, and Montreal were through.

A little less than a year later, and here now are the Impact, in Mexico’s capital, getting ready for the CONCACAF Champions League final against Club America (9 pm ET; Fox Sports 2 and UniMas in US, TVA Sports in Canada).

And, like Edmonton supporters, they haven’t forgotten about that game, either.

On-loan goalkeeper John Smits, brought in as backup with Eric Kronberg cup-tied, is there to remind them of it. Smits was the Eddies’ goalkeeper that night.

“It’s kind of an ironic circle,” goalkeeper Evan Bush told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s kind of the soccer gods rewarding him, I guess, because you can look back at that and say maybe we didn’t deserve to get through that game. That could be true, but since then we’ve advanced through some very tough opponents, some very tough environments and now we’re here. That’s far in the past now.”

By all accounts, starting with the Impact’s own, it was a forgettable night despite the win. Edmonton could – some say should – have gone on to face Toronto FC in the ACC final. It would have left Montreal with no other source of joy to help them forget their grim MLS campaign that year.

The mood has changed much since then. That’s what winning their CCL group and knocking out Pachuca and Alajuelense in the ensuing knockout rounds will do.

“We laugh about that quite often,” Jack McInerney said of that close call last year. “It’s a common joke at the lunch table. That’s just how the game goes sometimes. Some teams that you don’t play often are going to give you a tough game that you don’t expect. Maybe because they’re a NASL team, we kind of dropped to their level a bit. It’s part of the game, and what matters is that we’re here.”