MONTREAL – He who used to play for the Pope’s team is about to get his redemption.
As a crucial contributor for San Lorenzo – whose most famous supporter is Pope Francis – Ignacio Piatti helped the Argentine club reach the two-legged Copa Libertadores final last year, where they drew 1-1 at Nacional, in Paraguay, in the first leg Aug. 6.
But the international transfer window closed at midnight, that night, and Piatti had signed a deal with the Montreal Impact. He missed out on the second leg, which San Lorenzo won at home to capture the crown. Piatti eventually received his replica of the Libertadores, but something was still missing.
This Wednesday, nothing’s keeping Piatti out of the second leg of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League final.
“When I came here, it was tough for me not to play the second leg of the final for San Lorenzo,” Piatti told reporters on Monday. “But I also knew that the club here was in CCL. It was a dream, something important to reach the final and lift the trophy. Now, going through the group stages, emotions are higher, and we’re ready for this last game.”
Talks of Piatti going back on loan to San Lorenzo for the Club World Cup didn’t materialize, either. It just makes for twice the redemption story, then.
First, Liga MX side Club América loom Wednesday in the second leg of the CCL final at Stade Olympique in Montreal. And if someone can hurt them, it’s Piatti.
He scored the Impact’s goal at Azteca in the 1-1 draw in the first leg, and he could have scored another had an audacious chip hit the target.
With the away goal, Montreal kick off the second leg needing at least a 0-0 tie to be champions.
“It’s going to give our team a lot more confidence because it’s a very difficult place to play, and [Club América are] a very good team,” head coach Frank Klopas told reporters after the first leg. “Nacho has been fantastic. I don’t like to talk about individual players, but we’re talking about a special player, and you saw that tonight. He can change the game. The more we get him the ball in good spots on the field, the better it’s going to be for our team.”
The way Piatti has played in Montreal’s CCL run, it’s almost as if there is nothing he can’t do.
He has scored, against both Alajuelense in the semifinals and América. At Pachuca in the quarters, from an attacking midfield spot, he would pick up the ball, draw defenders and give his teammates time to catch their breath. At Alajuelense, he did the same thing, only from a No. 9 position.
When Piatti's healthy, his teammates know that they have a Designated Player at the top of his game.
“If the club made the huge investment in bringing the guy in, it’s because he deserves it,” defender Bakary Soumare said after the first leg. “He’s unbelievable. He’s as good as they come in this league. We rely on him offensively because it’s tough to come here. He draws a lot of players, draws a lot of fouls, scores goals. He’s just fantastic for us. I just love having guys like that on the team. We’re enjoying it, and we’re taking advantage of it.”
Piatti could have landed elsewhere last summer. During negotiations, Impact vice president Nick De Santis told MLSsoccer.com, the club knew of many offers that were on Piatti’s table. Club América were on his case. So were Cruz Azul. Even clubs in Europe went for it.
For De Santis, traveling to Argentina to sit down with Piatti was crucial.
“That’s the best part: in the end, he chose the Montreal Impact,” De Santis said. “For us as a club, we need to be proud of that. … It’s gratifying for us. We know that he’s extremely happy in Montreal.”
Allowing Piatti to stay with San Lorenzo (almost) to the end of their Libertadores run was crucial, as well.
“In Mexico, they always look at players from Argentina,” Piatti said. “Now, this is a decisive game, a final, and I’m really happy here in Montreal. I’m only thinking in winning the final.”
So are Club América – confidently so.
After the first leg, goalkeeper Moisés Muñoz stated that América should have scored “five or six goals,” a number they appear to be shooting for on Wednesday.
Bring it on, Piatti said.
“I was a little surprised with what they said,” he said. “We’re a great team. They said they’d win by four, five goals. We’re waiting for them. Let’s see.
“In Pachuca, we were winning 2-0, and we ended up tying 2-2,” Piatti continued. “I think we’ve shown that we’re a great team. It wouldn’t be a surprise [if we won the tournament]. MLS is growing a lot. We’re very strong. It will be a nice game.”
It’s easy to imagine the emotions if Piatti scores again.
At Azteca, he lifted his shirt in celebration, revealing the words “Abuelo te amo,” which translates to “I love you, grandpa.” Last month, knowing that his grandfather was ill, Piatti went back to Argentina to say goodbye. He learned of his passing upon returning for Montreal.
Dominic Oduro was credited with an assist on Piatti's opener, but Grandpa Pedro probably deserved one, too.
“Every time I go on the field, he’s with me,” Piatti said. “He taught me so many things. I miss him, but he’s always with me.”