Montreal fails to clear the final CONCACAF Champs League hurdle

May 4, 2015 at 10:27 pm | Posted in General Football, Vancouver Whitecaps | Leave a comment
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Like many Canadian soccer fans I declared a truce with the Montreal Impact for the purposes of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). Against all odds, the Impact made their way to the two-leg CCL final operating under Major League Soccer’s strict salary cap limitations.Their opponent was mighty Club America from Mexico which are operates under no salary cap limitations.

Amazingly, the Montreal impact had gone to the Azteca in Mexico City, the venue where Pele and Maradona wrote their names in football history, and had nearly won the match one-nil. Only a late goal by the Mexicans spared their blushes in front of their home fans.

Looked at more abstractly, The CCL final was unlimited free enterprise (Club America) verses the controlled centralized economy (Montreal Impact). In the CCL, free enterprise beat the controlled centralized economy as surely as the US beat the USSR in the Cold War.

The second leg was eagerly anticipated in Montreal where 60,000 or so bought tickets to watch a mid-week match. Other MLS teams looked forward to seeing one of their own lift the trophy, which has gone to Mexican sides for seven straight years now. Even MLS Commissioner Don Garber, (the “Soccer Don”) made the trip to the Great White North in hope of watching a historic match which would vindicate his controlled-growth model of soccer and win the tournament for an MLS team for the first time since the CCL format started in 2008.

Unfortunately the writing was on the wall for Montreal. Their squad was too thin to compete with a strong and deep Club America. The Impact’s star goalkeeper Evan Busch, who was key to the Impact’s success in the competition, received a yellow card in the first leg which disqualified him for the second leg. The Impact had to desperately find an experienced goalkeeper and signed obscure German goalkeeper Kristian Nicht from NASL’s Indy Eleven, just just days before the second leg (he was released just days after the final).

Another bad sign was that Montreal coach Frank Klopas put Nigel Reo-Coker on right back. Vancouver Whitecaps fans remember Reo-Coker as a highly talented midfielder, but as a very poor right back.  Reo-Coker had a few matches for Vancouver at right back and did not perform well at all. During the second half of the second leg in Montreal Reo-Coker was exposed on three of the four goals Club America scored. While the whole Impact team ran out of fuel in the second half, Reo Coker flagged first. Klopas should have played someone else at right back and put Reo-CoKer in central midfield where he knows how to play very well and would not have to chase fit young Mexican wingers.

It all started gloriouly well as the Impact rattled the shaky Mexican defenders with aggressive attacking play early in the first half. The Impact’s Romero scored early and held their advantage until halftime.  We all held our breath and dreamed of the wild celebrations at the “Big Owe” in Montreal when the final whistle blew.

In the second half the bubble burst for Montreal in a big way. Club America scored four straight goals, running Montreal’s makeshift team into the ground. It was very sad to watch the dream of a great moment in Canadian soccer history die.  The Impact salvaged some pride with a late goal to make it 4-2, but it was a consolation goal in the truest sense of the word.

Don Garber slunk away from Montreal with the expected  “proud the Impact got so far” comments, but the frustration was clear for all to see and feel. The post match commentary and social media said it all: the tight salary cap in effect for MLS teams makes it nearly impossible for them to build and carry a squad strong enough to win the CONCACAF Champions League.

In fact, as Vancouver Whitecaps fans must now be painfully aware,  participation in the Champions league has proven to be a liability for Montreal in MLS league play. Montreal has failed to win a match in league play, and face a huge workload to make up the MLS league games they have missed to participate in the CCL.

For once, I actually feel for Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo. He and his team put their hearts into the CCL and have paid a heavy price for their troubles. They deserved better. If Saputo’s team had been freed from the chains that MLS has put on it, we would probably be toasting his team right now and for the future as well.

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