SANDY, Utah – With the Montreal Impact on the doorstep of history heading into the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League final Wednesday against Club America (9 pm ET; Fox Sports 2 and UniMas in US, TVA Sports in Canada), the bittersweet memories have come flooding back for members of Real Salt Lake’s 2011 team that was in the same position.
Montreal are the second MLS club to advance to the CCL final in the tournament’s current iteration – and the first from Canada. That first MLS team was RSL, just four short years ago.
RSL did the hard part in the first leg, drawing 2-2 away at Liga MX side Monterrey and were coming home with the energy, momentum, and the support of an entire league at their backs. Current RSL head coach Jeff Cassar, who was an assistant at that time, remembers the excitement the team felt as a city and league voiced their support.
“Everybody was rallying around us,” Cassar said. “The whole league was rallying around us, and we had that energy. It was new. It was exciting.”
The magical touch of a timeless Javier Morales goal in the 89th minute of the away leg, which followed a first-half Nat Borchers goal, gave RSL the away-goals advantage, meaning they needed either a low-scoring draw or win at home to secure an aggregate victory in the two-leg final.
But Monterrey forward Humberto Suazo scored in first-half stoppage time at Rio Tinto Stadium and the Mexican club would hold on to win 1-0, despite RSL’s frenzied attempts to level the match, celebrating the first of three consecutive tournament victories in front of the dumbstruck hometown fans.
RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando was asked what he remembers most about that night and didn’t mince words in his response.
“Playing in front of the fans and losing it in front of them,” he said. “You felt so bad after you lost that game in front of your friends and family and your own fans. But what a great experience it was to get there and have the whole league support you.”
Now it’s Montreal’s turn, and they have the full support of RSL.
“I wish Montreal all the best in this because they’re representing our league, and it’s a special time for them,” Cassar said.
In voicing his support for the Canadian club, Rimando added some advice of his own.
“Grab ahold of it, he said, “because you never know when it’s going to come back.”