MONTREAL – The most improbable of journeys was almost complete.
Only eight years prior, the Montreal Impact were a second-division team playing in a derelict ‘stadium,’ Centre Claude-Robillard, that they will ditch as their training facility this summer. But here they were at halftime of the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final, leading Club América 2-1 on aggregate, seemingly destined to book a trip to the Club World Cup in Japan.
What followed was deflating. Dario Benedetto’s strike five minutes into the second half opened the floodgates that led to the 4-2 (5-3 on aggregate) final score. All of a sudden, Montreal were flat, and América were rampant. History was snatched away.
“It was important to keep things tight because we knew as the game went on they were maybe going to wear down a little bit. Giving up that goal that fast gave them life back,” Impact head coach Frank Klopas told reporters postgame. “On the other hand, physically we seemed to tire a little bit. We tired and we got stretched. When you give them a lot of room with the quality that they have, they make you pay.”
“In the first half the Montreal counterattacks were very dangerous,” offered the Club América coach, Gustavo Matosas. “If we had been losing 2-0 or 2-1 with the ball that we hit the post [in the first half], it would've been ok. Normal circumstances of a game. But I think the team felt much better in the second half and it was possible that it could have finished 6-2 or 7-2. The series was open for each team, but the level of the América players was [decisive].”
At halftime, the message in the Montreal locker room was to keep going. Impeccable in the first half, compact and sturdy, the Impact were the complete opposite after the break, a situation that center back Laurent Ciman lamented for its tendency to repeat itself.
“We have to stop asking ourselves so many questions,” Ciman said. “At halftime, we’re up 1-0. We have to keep going the same way, not change things and tell ourselves that we have to defend, do this, do that. We have to play in the same way, freely. We have to stop getting worked up for nothing, because then we’re disorganized, not focused and we drop back too much.”
“There were many times, last game, when [América players] were coming in waves, too,” Bush said. “We had a little bit of luck on our side. It hit the crossbar in Mexico, they hit the crossbar from a yard out tonight in the first half, somehow. At the end of the day, Lady Luck kind of turned on us in the second half.”
Only midway through the second half, the verdict was there. No more trophy. No more Japan. The journey was halted. And yet, in the supporters section, a banner was unfurled.
“From CCR to Azteca, always faithful.”