It all began with Dilly Duka silencing a stadium, back in the days when he wore No. 11.
Two goals against Pachuca, in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals on February 24, kick-started an adventure that Montreal Impact supporters thought was only possible on Football Manager.
And yet, the Impact made them dream. Even when the going got tough mid-season, they would daydream about those halcyon days, when their team drew against Club America at the Azteca. Then Didier Drogba signed and took No. 11. Then the new head coach charmed them. They started to dream again. Of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup playoffs. Of success in the playoffs.
That’s why they hurt so much right now.
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That, and the way Kei Kamara stabbed a late, extraime dagger into their hearts for the 4-3 aggregate win in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“We were close up to the end,” interim head coach Mauro Biello told reporters postgame. “We pushed all the way through. They were able to get that third goal, and we weren’t able to equalize here at the end. For the most part, I thought that, other than the first 15, we grew again as a team and created a lot of chances going forward, even in the first half.”
The fact that Montreal’s hopes picked up with Duka silencing a stadium only adds to their supporters’ misery. Duka came up with a potentially huge goal five minutes from halftime – though referee Armando Villarreal later wrote that “the assistant referee incorrectly judged Montreal’s Duka to be onside” in response to a pool reporter question.
“At one point, perhaps we were close to making it 2-1 and pushing them into the ropes,” team captain Patrice Bernier said. “It didn’t happen like that. Still, [goalkeeper Evan] Bush made a big stop on the [second half] penalty kick. At that point, I thought things would turn in our favor. But they scored.”
The warning signs had been there. Crew SC ran riot on Montreal’s right side, lofting dangerous crosses in – Kamara’s first came off a Waylon Francis cross four minutes in.
The sequence that led to Ethan Finlay’s goal came from that side. So did Kamara’s winner.
“They scored twice on crosses,” Biello said. “[Kamara] is very strong in the air. The third goal was a good goal. It’s something we have to improve on in the future.”
But Biello will relish the opportunity to work on that. Montreal came into this game having won its previous five. They’ll have a full preseason, with no need to fly to Pachuca for an early start. They’ll have a full season of Drogba. They won’t need to sign a dozen players this coming offseason.
“We had a good run,” Biello said. “We had won five games in a row before this game. We were in good form coming into the playoffs. I think it was unfortunate, the way things happened tonight, but we showed a lot of fight, a lot of character. That’s something important going forward.
“Until the end, until [Johan] Venegas’ last chance, we showed a team that would push unto death.”