The Montreal Impact were not supposed to be here. After finishing 19th (out of 19 teams) in Major League Soccer during the 2014 season, Frank Klopas’s side were supposed to get blown out of the CONCACAF Champions League knockout rounds and serve as an afterthought to the teams with a real chance of winning the competition.
Someone forget to tell the Impact, because here they are, 90 minutes away from being crowned CONCACAF champions following a 1-1 draw with Mexican side Club America in the first leg of the CCL final on Wednesday night. Forget about winning or even drawing the first leg — they were supposed to get run out of the building, totally embarrassed and effectively defeated before the second leg was even played on their home turf.
The Impact nabbed an early lead (16th minute), and so very nearly did the unthinkable. Dominic Oduro made a darting run into the right channel, played a clever through ball to the top of the box, where Dilly Duka’s dummy attracted the attention of America’s defense just enough to free up Ignacio Piatti near the penalty spot. The Argentine midfielder made no mistake with his finish and Montreal were in dreamland (below video).
Over the next 20 minutes, the Impact saw wave after wave of America pressure come their way, including a great goal being wrongly ruled out for offside in the 26th minute and Miguel Samudio’s stunning full volley clanging off the outside of Evan Bush’s near post in the 33rd minute.
The game’s most controversial moment came just before the halftime whistle when Oduro broke behind the entire America defense and bore down on goalkeeper Moises Munoz. Osvaldo Martinez, who was chasing Oduro down from behind, got a handful of Oduro’s shirt and pulled the Ghanaian speedster down. Criminally, Martinez was only shown yellow for the clear denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Samudio picked out Dario Benedetto at the penalty spot with a floating cross in the 60th minute, a golden opportunity to equalize, but Benedetto’s subsequent header was right at Bush and an easy save in the end. Either side of the ‘keeper and it was in the back of the net.
America continued to chase an equalizer and came inches from claiming one in the 68th minute, when Rubens Sambueza unleashed a powerful blast from 25 yards out, but the Argentine midfielder’s shot found only the crossbar.
It wasn’t until the 89th minute that America finally broke through, breaking Montreal hearts and planting a further seed of doubt ahead of the second leg. Sambueza whipped in a curling corner kick to the top of the six-yard box where Oribe Peralta was waiting and leapt over the Impact defense to head past Bush and level the game and series at 1-1.
The second leg of this year’s CCL final will be played next Wednesday (8 pm ET) in Montreal, in front of 65,000 at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
Club America: Munoz, Samudio, Aguilar, Pimentel, Aguilar, Pellerano (Guerrero 70′), Sambueza, Martinez (Peralta 46′), Quintero, Arroyo, Benedetto (Zuniga 80′)
Goals: Peralta (89′)
Montreal Impact: Bush, Toia, Ciman, Soumare, Camara (Miller 66′), Mallace, Reo-Coker (Bernier 76′), Romero, Piatti, Duka (Tissot 71′), Oduro
Goals: Piatti (16′)