MONTREAL – The Montreal Impact’s last training session before the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final against Club América was about to start. Players and staff gathered in a circle around a man dressed in a grey sports jacket. Club president Joey Saputo, of course.
What Saputo told the team, no one else knows yet. One can safely assume, though, that it had to do with the occasion, with what this game means for Montreal, a city whose love for its sports teams is unconditional – when they win, that is.
On Wednesday, 61,004 supporters will cheer the Impact on, no matter the outcome – the team has done too much already for the boo birds to come on. But the objective is clear: making history, becoming the first MLS team to lift the CCL trophy and qualifying for the Club World Cup in Japan.
“It would be a moment in history that would never be forgotten,” head coach Frank Klopas told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “That’s what I tell my players and even myself. When I left Chicago, I never thought I would be here coaching. Sometimes you think things last forever, and that’s not the case. This is not going to be here forever, but this moment can be. The moment.”
A moment that hardly anyone in Montreal thought would come.
As Bakary Soumare recalled, the Impact were massive, massive underdogs against Pachuca in the quarters. Yet they did progress. Estadio Azteca a week ago in the first leg of the finals was deemed even more of a foregone conclusion. Yet they did get a result, one that leaves all possibilities open.
“From the start, it’s been our goal, to go all the way,” Soumare told reporters. “Today, we’re little Tom Thumb. We enjoy it. We’ve known from the start that we can do something big, achieve something big. That’s what we’ll do. We've got one big game left. I think it’ll go well.
“Starting this year, no one gave us a chance against Pachuca,” Soumare continued. “Then we go through rounds after rounds after rounds. Next thing you know, you’re playing in Japan, against – who knows? – Barcelona, Bayern Munich. As a player that grew up in America, dreaming of becoming a soccer player, it doesn't get any bigger than that. For us as players, for us as a club, for us as a city and for us as part of Major League Soccer – and on a personal level – it’s as big an accomplishment as will ever come.”
The Impact have come a long way. A second-division side only four years ago, they hadn’t made the CCL quarterfinals since 2009, when Santos Laguna cruelly eliminated them with two stoppage-time goals in the second leg. That’s what made reaching the semis this year so special – that and, of course, Cameron Porter’s taste for the spectacular.
The Club World Cup was the impossible dream in 2009. Somehow, someway, the 2015 Impact have made it conceivable.
“We can go away one day and [these moments] will never go away, it will keep us together forever, whatever that means,” Klopas said. “That’s the special thing about it. The slogan was ‘Let’s Make History.’ It was crazy when they put it on, nobody really knew what that meant. But here’s an opportunity to really make history.”