And another entry for the "that was fun while it lasted" file. The Montreal Impact huffed and puffed, but eventually Club América blew their house down to the tune of 4-2 (5-3 aggregate) on Wednesday night, and now the Liga MX giants are deservedly kings of the confederation.
There were bad calls, yes – red cards should have been shown to Osvaldo Martinez in Leg 1, and Jose Daniel Guerrero in Leg 2. Fans will understandably dwell on that.
But América won because they were just better. Sometimes that's how the game works.
Here are a few other things of note:
1. The Other Officiating Problem
Question for regular CCL viewers. Are the refs naive to these tactical fouls or just very lenient?— Kristan Heneage (@KHeneage) April 30, 2015
Before we dig in too far on CONCACAF refs (and to be clear: they're generally frustrating, and often outright awful) we have to recognize that tactical fouls are a federation-wide problem. You want to know why that 3-on-3 breakaway turned into a 2-on-3? Because the trailing runner was hacked down behind the play and the ref waved play on, then didn't caution the guy commiting the foul.
You are as likely to see this in MLS play as you are in continental play, and it is the destroyer of fun, open, attacking soccer. Ventura Alvardo was particularly guilty of it on Wednesday, stopping several breakaways in each half. None was more flagrant than when he wiped out Dom Oduro in the 60th minute, which brought out perhaps the most comedic "no more fouls!" warning in recent memory.
Regardless, it's a foul that's become a way of life in North America. Ben Olsen was the king of it back in the day, but he didn't do it because he's dirty: He did it because a tactical foul, if not whistled properly, is usually a smart tactical play.
So credit to Club América for taking what the ref gave them, but let's not pretend you won't see the same thing this weekend in domestic leagues starting in Panama and making local stops at all points north.
2. The Depth Issue
Nigel Reo-Coker is a central midfielder who has, on occasion, played right back. In certain situations this can be a good thing, as he has almost all of the physical characteristics you'd look for in a modern fullback.
In other situations... not as much:
Reo-Coker started in place of regulars Victor Cabrera and Hassoun Camara, who missed the match with unspecified "lower body injuries." It took America 45 minutes to figure that out, and then in the second half they went right at the veteran Englishman.
It was bloody, and it was predictable. The name of the game is to identify and exploit opposition weaknesses, and that's what the champions did.
Also, right back wasn't the only area where depth was an issue:
#FCEd supporters with a rousing chant of "You shoulda played John Smits" after that Club America goal— Greyson Knutson (@GKnutsonCTV) April 30, 2015
3. Canada Rising
I'm going to flirt with correlation and causality a little bit here, but I need to try to make this point:
With Martin into the game, it marks the 1st time in Major League history four Canadians have appeared in a game for the same team. #BlueJays— Blue Jays Stats (@Blue_JaysStats) April 30, 2015
The Blue Jays were probably the best baseball team of the early '90s, and... well, that. And in the late '90s, Vince Carter was arguably the biggest star in the NBA, back in his Raptors days. Fifteen years later, we've seen Canadian hoopers go No. 1 in the last two NBA drafts, and a bunch more picked in the lottery (Tristan Thompson & Sauce Castillo spring to mind). No less an authority than Steve Nash says Carter deserves some of the credit. He made basketball in Canada mainstream and accessible.
There are some other issues at play, of course, and participation rates for Canadian kids in youth baseball following the Blue Jays run calls the connection I'm making into question.
But I'm going to make it anyway: tonight was huge for Canadian soccer, even if only two of the Impact players (Patrice Bernier and Maxim Tissot) were Canucks. Read Daniel Squizzato's Twitter feed for more.
One last thing...
I've seen a lot of "Have Montreal written the blueprint for how to compete in the CCL?" tweets over the last couple of weeks. And my answer is "no."
Frank Klopas and the Impact did a mostly wonderful job of absorbing pressure and hitting on the counter, and if things had gone a little bit different here or there, they could have been hoisting the trophy. But "bunker-and-counter" only goes so far. You can get lucky and win, and given the talent gap (worst team in MLS on PPG vs. one of the best in LigaMX), that was the right call.
But luck only goes so far; at some point, you need "process." MLS teams have to continue to invest in their academies and reserve teams, building both a squad and an adaptable style of play from within.
That's when the CCL breakthrough will come. In the meantime, all we have is another painful lesson.