MEXICO CITY – They were so, so close to making history.
For 88 minutes, the Montreal Impact had fought and clawed at Estadio Azteca in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. A handful of minutes more, and they would become the first Canadian team to win in Mexico in Champions League play.
Not so fast, said Oribe Peralta. The Mexican international nodded in Rubens Sambueza’s free kick from just outside the penalty area, turning an epic victory over Club América into a 1-1 tie.
There may have been no win for the Impact here, but the result doesn’t just keep them in the tie; it leaves them with every chance to still lift the CCL trophy next Wednesday in front of a sellout crowd at Montreal’s Stade Olympique.
“I’m proud of the effort of my team,” head coach Frank Klopas said. “It was a very good result for us. We know this is not over. We are very happy to be going home in front of our great fans. We know we have our work cut out for us, but we’ll be ready.”
Yet they didn’t score on the counter. It was a direct play, starting with Laurent Ciman’s excellent long ball wide to Hassoun Camara. Oduro, Dilly Duka and Piatti took care of the rest in a four-second move.
“We came out with a plan to be tight and collectively go forward and defend,” Duka said. “In the first 45 minutes, we did that real well. Second half, with their fans and just the atmosphere, they were able to get a lot of crosses off and have a lot of chances. It was our day. We came out of here with a tie, and we’re happy about it.”
The pressure was intense, and the Azteca, booming. América were relentless in the second half, attempting 17 shots on Evan Bush’s net.
Peralta’s equalizer bred a bittersweet feeling for some. But this is still much better than anyone in the Azteca – apart from the Impact and some 125 of their supporters high in the southwest corner – imagined would happen.
“It’s not about what people believe,” Bakary Soumare said. “It’s about what we believe here, in the locker room, as a club. People in Montreal, they believe in us. That’s why the [Olympic] Stadium was sold out before this game. They believe in us, and we believe in ourselves. Ultimately, like any industry you’re in, as long as the group believes in themselves, we’ll be successful.”