MONTREAL – On March 3, 2015, at precisely 9:56 pm ET, a third-round SuperDraft pick most Impact fans couldn’t pick out of lineup rewrote soccer history in Quebec.
At the time, Cameron Porter was an unassuming 21-year-old forward “that we barely knew before training camp started,” as TVA Sports play-by-play commentator Frédéric Lord aptly put it. He wasn’t supposed to be on the field, let alone play CONCACAF Champions League hero.
Weeks earlier, Porter had been preparing for final exams at Princeton. Most figured he’d be a shoo-in for the MLS Combine. He wasn’t invited. Professional soccer – or at least an MLS shot – seemed like it may have passed him by.
“Then, last-minute invite,” Porter says. “I’m totally out of shape, and I’m like, ‘Aw, crap!’”
Still, Montreal drafted him 45th overall. He went to training camp, and impressed the people he needed to impress. He landed his first pro contract on Feb. 7, and packed his bags for preseason in Mexico.
Two-and-a-half weeks later, on Feb. 24, Impact coaches made the rounds to give players their marching orders. Those in the 18 for first leg of the club’s CCL quarterfinal against Pachuca would stick around. Everyone else was headed back to Montreal to resume training. Late in the afternoon, Porter hadn’t been briefed on his fate.
“Somebody goes by,” Porter recalls, “and I say, ‘I’m supposed to do a little gym work out here and pack my stuff, right?’ He goes ‘No, no, no, no – you’re in the 18.’ Whoa.”
Montreal drew 2-2 in Mexico with Porter making his Impact debut as an 81st-minute substitute – ahead of proven striker Jack McInerney – on a mission to “defend for every guy out there.”
He was on the bench again a week later when the second leg kid off at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. After 85 minutes, Pachuca are up 1-0, 3-2 on aggregate, thanks to a German Cano penalty kick. Porter’s number was called again, this time with an entirely different task.
One year later, Porter is standing by the advertising boards at the Olympic Stadium. Thanks to footage from TVA Sports, he’s about to relive, not for the first time, the momentous goal that made Impact history some 200 feet away.
Porter stares at the screen, and the clip comes to life. Calum Mallace recovers the ball deep inside the Montreal half after Donny Toia makes a crucial tackle to goalkeeper Evan Bush’s right. “They almost scored there,” Porter says, relieved even though he already knows the outcome.
“I’m right about here, off-screen,” he says, pointing just outside the center circle, inside the Pachuca half. “I think I’m actually between their center back and their outside back. So I see Mallace pick up the ball here … When that happens, their entire defensive line is rotating over. What happens is, I switch over and I’m all the way on the [right] back. And I keep on going, going, going, opening up, for this – ugh! – this guy.”
Mallace comes over and playfully bumps into Porter, who trolls him by comparing the Scottish midfielder to Brett Favre. Mallace is a Minnesota Vikings fan.
“[I’m thinking] he can actually throw a Hail Mary here,” Porter says. “And, lo and behold, he bombs it down the field. Was it inch-perfect or centimeter-perfect? It’s Canada. Centimeter-perfect ball is what happens next if I’m not mistaken.”
He’s not. Mallace fakes a clearance in front of an attacker, advances midway to the center circle, looks up and swings his foot at the ball.
Pause. The ball hangs in mid-air. Porter is on the outside of the right back.
“[The defensive line] had pushed over when Mallace picked up the ball on the other side. Naturally, you think he’s going to play the ball down the line, especially since Dom [Oduro] is out there, probably.”
Actually, Oduro has been withdrawn from the game. Justin Mapp mans the right side. McInerney races down the center channel.
The space behind the right back is open. From the bench, Porter had noticed Pachuca’s compact defense. But this is stoppage time. “Stuff’s really spread out,” he says. He knows that the defensive line sliding over will open up space for a run he’s been making all his life.
Later that night, Mallace will tell reporters he’s seen Porter make that run “every day in training.” Usually, Porter says, those were diagonal runs from the middle. Against Pachuca, he’s playing on the wing. His run follows the opposite trajectory. Still, Mallace recognizes it.
All Porter needs to put himself in on goal is the right first touch.
“My goal was basically to take it off my chest and push it across me and the defender’s body, because I want the ball on his right side so that I can cut in front of him,” he explains. “It gives me time, me in front of him, in front of the ball, facing goal.”
Everything goes as planned. Porter keeps his feet as Jurgen Damm jostles him from behind, hoping to disrupt his balance. Goalkeeper Oscar Perez rushes off his line, cutting off the angle, while McInerney has beaten the rest of the Pachuca defense, looking for a feed or rebound.
“I saw [Perez] coming off his line, and to be frank, my curler is not the greatest, especially when the ball comes straight in front of me, that I have to get around it and push it back at the far post,” Porter says. “But then I saw him coming out, and he took steps as if he was expecting that kind of shot.”
The near post is covered; the curler isn’t an option. Before the ball stops bouncing, Porter reaches a toe out and pokes it between Pérez’s legs.
More than 38,000 fans lose their minds, Olympic Stadium entering a state of delirium.
“Madness,” Porter says with a chuckle. On screen, then-head coach Frank Klopas has just performed his infamous ‘thrust’ in the direction of the fourth official, one that sees him expelled before exiting while swinging his sweater high overhead.
“I think I saw it on, like, FratMove.com,” Porter remembers, “and all my friends were on the college websites going, ‘Cameron, is that your coach?’”
Back on the field, despite the occasion, Porter has no idea how to celebrate. He runs along the touchline with his arms extended. He moves his right forearm in a, well, awkward way – “What am I doing with my hands?” he wonders.
His teammates tackle him and a pile forms. Porter can’t breathe, but he’s ecstatic. He can feel the roar of the crowd on his skin.
The sound is so loud that the French play-by-play announcers can’t be heard on the broadcast for several seconds. As Porter emerges from the mob of players, the announcers manage to make themselves heard through the din.
“The stadium exploded,” Porter emphasizes.
After this highest of highs, the lowest of lows hits 18 days later when he crumples to the turf in New England after tearing his ACL. Porter used the newfound free time to recover, of course, but also to learn French.
In the meantime, the Impact nearly made history without him, falling to Club America in the CCL final. Porter could only watch from the stands, but his legacy is already secure in Quebec.
He made history with Montrealers, and now he speaks their language.