MONTREAL – As the saying goes, you get what you deserve. The last thing the Montreal Impact deserve is a CONCACAF Champions League title, according to Club América goalkeeper Moises Muñoz.
Despite the fact that it took the better part of 90 minutes for Las Aguilas to find a chink in the Impact’s armor at Estadio Azteca in the first leg of the final, it only took a few seconds for Muñoz to repudiate the notion that the underdog Canadians held any prospective claim to the title of CONCACAF’s best
“That team does not deserve to be champions,” Muñoz told reporters after the Impact shocked CONCACAF by nearly walking out of Azteca with a 1-0 victory before settling for what was still a famous draw.
“Today there was only one team on the field, a team that tried to get the win -- and that was us,” he added. “If we maintain that intensity, those ideas and generate the same chances in their stadium, I’m confident we can easily win the title.”
Of course, there’s a difference between confidence and downright arrogance.
The Impact’s response on Tuesday ahead of the second leg at Olympic Stadium is that that they’ve gotten exactly what they deserve from a CCL run that includes last year’s group-topping start, a dramatic quarterfinal victory against Pachuca and a gutty semifinal win in the lion’s den that is Alajuela.
“What I would say to Muñoz is the game is decided on the field,” Montreal head coach Frank Klopas told MLSsoccer.com in an exclusive interview. “That’s why I give my players confidence. I say, ‘You guys have quality, play with confidence, you’re just as good.’ Just as good, why not? What is the difference? I don’t see it.”
In Muñoz’s defense, neither Klopas nor the Impact denied that their game plan revolved around a compact defensive shape and opportunistic counterattack at Azteca. As expected, América had the majority of possession – 67 percent to the visitors’ 33 – and uncorked 28 shots to Montreal’s four.
The game plan isn’t likely to change much on Wednesday, and the Impact don’t harbor any inferiority complex when it comes to their style of play or América’s cadre of high-priced talent. They certainly won’t lay down the way Herediano did in the second leg of their semifinal after heading to Azteca with a 3-0 advantage, only to lose 6-0 in the decisive leg.
“We’re not Herediano. We’re playing at home. We won’t let a team walk all over us,” Bakary Soumare said. “We’re not here to get a beating. We’re here to win. We’re serious, we’re compact and we’re ready for anything. If we have to knock people around, we’ll knock people around. We’ll do anything to win.”
In many ways, Major League Soccer's front office and clubs have done just about everything in its power to help the Impact get to this point and perhaps even lift the trophy. Regular-season matches against the New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire and San Jose Earthquakes were postponed to allow the club to focus all its energy on the regional competition. There were even reports of an intraleague loan to help Montreal alleviate the goalkeeping headache caused by Evan Bush’s late yellow card in Mexico City that sees him suspended for the second leg.
In the end, Indy Eleven veteran Kristian Nicht, who previously came on loan and served as the team's backup against Pachuca and the first leg against Alajuelesnse, arrived via transfer to give the Impact a veteran presence between the pipes in the club’s biggest-ever game.
That move didn’t sit well with América president Ricardo Pelaez, who also expressed concern about the assignment of a Costa Rican referee crew in addition to essentially guaranteeing a victory celebration at Olympic Stadium – “Of course we are going to win.”
Sour grapes, said Bush.
“It’s CONCACAF, and Club América are the biggest team in CONCACAF. So I don’t think that they ever really have anything going against them,” he said. “The president’s going to say those things to try and sway the referee or the organization to be on his side, for sure, and that’s just all political parts of the game. So I don’t buy it.”
“Maybe [they are a little afraid],” Andres Romero offered. “I believe they are feeling the pressure.”
Afraid, arrogant or both, there’s no doubt Montreal have plenty of bulletin-board material to get their blood boiling if need be. Just don’t expect them to get too wrapped up in the games before the game.
They’ll let their play do the talking.
“Trash talk makes the game fun, right? There’s nothing wrong with going back and forth,” Dominic Oduro said.
“You can talk as much as you can, but if you can’t back it up on the field you are nobody,” he added. “There’s been a little bit of hitting of nerves here and there, but we are just ready to fight and it’s all about giving it all tomorrow. The trash talking will be done on the field.”