MEXICO CITY, Mexico – The final chapter of the Montreal Impact’s historic Champions League run begins Wednesday, at 9pm EDT, in the first leg of the tournament finals against Club América at Estadio Azteca (TVA Sports 2, CJAD 800 – viewing party at Corona Theatre Virgin Mobile).
Playing in enemy territory, in front of an expected sellout crowd of 100,000 fans, against a storied franchise like Club América, is a once in a lifetime experience, and the team is ready to soak it all in.
“We know we are the underdog, but we’ve been the underdog since the beginning of the tournament and we are still here,” said head coach Frank Klopas. “In your career, whether as a coach or a player, you may not get another chance like this, so it’s important that we enjoy the experience as much as possible.”
On April 7, the Impact became just the second MLS team and first Canadian club ever to advance to the Champions League finals, with a chance of representing CONCACAF at the FIFA Club World Cup on the line.
The only other team from Major League Soccer to accomplish the feat of a finals appearance was Real Salt Lake in 2010-2011.
Midfielder Dominic Oduro has been good in tournament play, recording three assists in the Champions League semifinals against Costa Rican club L.D. Alajuelense.
Newly arrived striker Kenny Cooper could make his Impact debut Wednesday after joining the club on April 12. Cooper is ranked 18th all-time in MLS with 75 career regular season goals.
While the Impact has rescheduled two regular season games to accommodate the finals, Club América is coming off of a 4-0 loss on Saturday to Queretaro in league play, and has another hugely important matchup this weekend against first place Chivas Guadalajara – a Clasico – before the team comes to Montreal for the decisive leg.
Despite the loss, the Eagles are currently in 6th spot in Liga MX, with a record of 6-4-4, 22pts, and are just three points behind Chivas.
IMFC knows that Club América will come out hard on their pitch as they have historically been a good home team.
“We’ve been working hard in training to play a solid road game and return to Montreal in a good spot for the home leg,” said defender Laurent Ciman. “It’s going to be a difficult game and we will have to defend a lot. They have good attacking players who like to play the one-two in the final third, so we will have to manage the game well.”
The Mexican Apertura winners have a number of quality players, including the likes of Argentine striker Dario Benedetto, who scored four goals against Herediano in the 6-0 semifinal second leg win, and Oribe Peralta, who is a Mexican national team striker.
However, Impact supporters are probably more likely to recognize forward Darwin Quintero, who has already faced the Impact twice in his career, while he was playing with Santos Laguna in 2009, scoring both stoppage time goals (91st and 92nd minute) to eliminate the Impact from its first ever Champions League appearance in the quarterfinals.
“We know they are a good team and we have respect for them, but we won’t fear them,” added Klopas.
The historic decisive return leg is set for April 29 at 8pm EDT, at Olympic Stadium (TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).