MONTREAL – The final whistle just couldn’t come quick enough for the travelling Montreal supporters on the evening of July 22, 2008.
The Montreal Impact were valiantly defending their goal against Toronto FC at BMO Field, protecting the 1-1 score at all costs. Salvaging a point here would suffice to top the Reds in the 2008 Canadian Championship standings – a round-robin tournament at the time.
Somehow, in Muhammad Ali-esque fashion, Montreal rolled with the endless array of punches. Somehow, Jeff Cunningham missed the game-winner, failing to tap a loose ball into a deserted net. And somehow, Montreal triumphed in the inaugural Canadian Championship and picked up its seventh straight Voyageurs’ Cup.
“That was a game where you just had 11 guys on the field that were so totally committed to each other,” Impact director of soccer operations and 2008 goalkeeper Matt Jordan told MLSsoccer.com. “At that time, the 11 and the guys on the bench, we had 18 guys who, every time we stepped on the field, showed a commitment to each other that was beyond strong. That’s how we approached that game: we did everything we could to fight for one another.”
Montreal’s subsequent group stage success and run to the 2008-09 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals was assuredly in the players’ minds when, months after the run ended, they looked irresistible as they crushed the Vancouver Whitecaps 6-3 on aggregate in the 2009 USL First Division playoff final. But in the Canadian Championship, it was another story: from that 2008 tournament-clinching game until the Impact’s 2-1 win against Toronto FC on April 7, 2012, Montreal lost every derby against TFC, who won every edition of the tournament.
“We were a second-division team going up against Toronto for another two years after that first Championship, so from the start, it’s a bit difficult,” assistant coach Mauro Biello said. “Last year, we got off to a bad start and they were able to win it. We feel strong about our team this year and we think our chances are good.”
The opportunity to turn the tide is as good as it has been in the past four years. All of Montreal’s four wins in MLS this term had ‘character’ written all over them. Various players and staff members have won national cups, in North America or elsewhere. And the spirit of the 2008 ACC-winning squad might inspire them this time.
“Our commitment to each other was what helped carry us through that CONCACAF Champions League run we made,” Jordan said. “We were just a bunch of hard-working guys that were very committed to working for one another.”