The first leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals happened tonight at Olympic Stadium, with the Montreal Impact hosting CD Olimpia. The winner over two legs would, of course, make his way to the top four, with a chance to take on Tigres or New York City FC in the next round.
The Impact, on its end, qualified after defeating Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa over two legs in the round of 16.
The stakes were high in Montreal, both teams knowing what was on the other end. It made for a cagey affair at first, both teams hesitant to leave themselves vulnerable in the back.
In these types of matchups, mistakes can be cruel, and the first came for the home side in the 15th minute, when an Olimpia forward made his way in on goal alone, and although goalkeeper Clément Diop managed to get a piece of it, the ball found its way to the back of the net.
Before the end of the first, Olimpia was able to double its lead, taking advantage of a well-executed counterattack to slot a second past Diop.
That’s when the Impact got to work.
It’s not like they were outplayed in the opening 45. Montreal had almost 80% of possession but couldn’t find enough space to open Olimpia up in the final third, while the visitors sat back, taking advantage of their chances.
Two minutes into the second, that quickly changed, with Saphir Taider finding the back of the net. It was going to take something special for Montreal to break through the Honduran wall, and it doesn’t get more special than the Algerian’s strike from way out.
That awoke the beast inside of Thierry Henry’s men, who proceeded to bringing the game to the Hondurans looking for the equalizer. Anthony Jackson-Hamel, who came on in the second half along with Ballou Tabla, wreaked havoc on Olimpia’s defense; in the 63rd, Jackson created space and unleashed a shot that was stopped. In the 76th minute, Ballou made his way past his man on the flank and found Jackson-Hamel alone, but his header missed just wide.
Then, with a few minutes to go, the referee pointed to the spot, offering Montreal a penalty after a handball in the box from the opposing team. But after a long consultation with the linesmen, the call was reversed.
"You have to play well for 90 minutes," said Impact head coach Thierry Henry."We are learning. We try to progress and now we need to do this during two halves. When you try to come from behind, it's a different challenge. Everyone goes up and everything goes faster. We had some clear chances. Now we need to do like we did in the second half and push more. We have to show that we can go there and qualify for the next round."
Montreal now heads to Honduras for the second leg on Tuesday, March 17, at 8pm. If the Impact hopes to proceed to the semifinal, it’ll need at least two goals and a win next Tuesday.