Olympic Stadium set for epic showdown

Impact returns home with slight advantage over Saprissa

Let me just start by saying, how good did it feel to see the Montreal Impact back in the Champions League. As the referee blew his whistle to signal the start of the game, a different kind of excitement was brewing inside of me, one more intense than the usual feeling we all get at the start of the season.

And one can’t help but remember the last time Montreal featured in the continental competition. That magical run to the final, which included wins against Mexican side Pachuca in the quarterfinal, and Costa Rican side Alajuelense in the semis.

This year, it was in Costa Rica again that the Impact’s journey started. Playing in the capital, San Jose, in a stadium dubbed the Monster’s Cave, Thierry Henry’s men knew they had a mammoth task at hand, facing a team that was already well into its season and currently sharing first place in the Liga FPD.

As expected, the home time gained the edge in terms of possession early and kept it that way throughout the game, but it didn’t really seem that way. The Impact fared well in the first few moments, and the usual jitters you see in a team’s first game were nowhere to be found.

Instead, it was Saprissa that made a first fatal mistake in the 10th minute, leading to the Okwonkwo goal. Then, 10 minutes later, Romell Quioto, who had an excellent start to the game, finished off an opportunity from the left wing that left the net shaking.

"We played well in the first half, but the second half was difficult,” said Impact defender Jukka Raitala.  “Leading by two at halftime gave us a lot of confidence, but they were very strong returning from the break. They caused a lot of problems, and I think we both could've scored more in the second half. At the end, 2-2 is a fair result. I'm proud with the way we fought today."

It wasn’t easy at times. The Costa Rican side had a more desperate edge to it upon returning from the locker room, knowing they needed something out of this game to give itself a chance in Montreal. Although their offensive mindset in the second allowed Montreal to find opportunities on the counter, it paid off; Saprissa was able to find the back of the net twice in quick succession, including a header from former Impact player Johan Venegas to cut the deficit in half.

"I think if you would've told us before the game that we'd score two away goals and tie the game, we would have taken it,” said goalkeeper Clément Diop. “It's a good result, with the second leg taking place in Montreal. We had incredible support from our fans tonight. I was surprised to see them, and it warmed my heart to see they made the trip. They helped us hold on in the last moments. Now, we need to recover well for the return leg in Montreal."

Whether or not their journey will continue will be decided at Olympic Stadium, next Wednesday at 8pm. And if Diop thinks the Impact faithful was loud in Costa Rica, wait until he sees them in the Big-O next week. Tickets available here.