The Montreal Impact are set to face Costa Rican club Alajuelense tonight at Alejandro Morera Soto Stadium in Costa Rica for the right to play in the Concacaf Champions League Final. Is their yet another chapter to the story for the Impact? The club is on the verge of doing something no Canadian team has ever done before and play in the champions league final!
To put this in perspective, only 4 times has an MLS team ever advanced to the final and none have ever won it, needless to say this would be a major boost to the Impact, and MLS if Montreal can pull this off! Imagine what it would be like...Montreal Impact facing off against this year's UEFA Champions League winner, that is ultimately what is a stake here. A place in CONCACAF CCL final and the Impact can go for glory and try earn a spot at the Club World Cup as the CONCACAF CCL winner.
The club finds themselves heading into the final leg with a 2 goal cushion thanks to goals by newcomer Victor Cabrera and star midfielder Ignacio Piatti during their home match at the Olympic Stadium March 18th. Almost more important than the win for the Impact was the fact that they also were able to keep the visitors off the score sheet adding more pressure on their Costa Rican opponents.
For fans, while nothing is more satisfying than a victory, the 2-0 win the Impact posted a couple weeks ago means that the club that can advance to the final with a draw of any kind or even a 1-0 loss. This is not to say that I believe the club should go down their and play for a goalless draw, or play not to lose, because any pro or analyst will confirm it is the worst way to approach a game.
You should never go into a game looking for a draw, but it does allow the Impact the luxury to go into enemy territory knowing that they do not have to take the risks that Alajuelense need to take.
Here are my keys to success for the Montreal Impact
Although references have been made to the 2009 edition of the Impact that blew a 2-0 lead to Santos Laguna, Mexico, clearly this club is different. You need to look no further than the opening leg of the quarter-final versus Pachuca, when the club jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and wound up coming home tied at 2.
Or then again, that 2009 edition, or even last year`s team would have crumpled like an old newspaper. If the team was anything like those they would not be anywhere near where they are today. I have no doubt in my mind that Alejuelense will come out flying in front of their home fans to try and grab an early goal and put the pressure on the Impact. It will be vital for Montreal to stay compact at the back and weather the storm especially in the opening 15-20 minutes. If they can successfully manage their emotions at the start it will go a long way in determining the outcome.
The longer the game remains scoreless, for Alejuelense especially, the more the pressure will build on the home side. I don't expect Alejeulense's players to spend too much time, time wasting, on the turf since they are in need of goals.
Discipline Discipline Discipline!
While I am confident that the club can and will progress into the final, it goes without saying that if they find themselves down a man for any extended period of time they will be playing with fire. Concacaf officiating has always appeared to be very dubious at times and the crew will be under extreme pressure in what is expected to be a very hostile environment. The Impact must keep it clean and not give the officials any reason to point to the spot or pull out cards. The back line and holding midfielders will have to anticipate plays early and get their timing on challenges spot on. You can be sure that Alejeulense's players will go to ground every chance they get in order to try an sway the referee's choices, the Impact must be ready for that.
Counter Attack with speed
It is no secret that Alejeulense is in need of goals and will be coming at the Impact in waves but that will mean there will be gaps that can and should be exploited on the counter attack. With the speed and skills of Oduro, Piatti, Romero, Duka and Jack Mac, the Impact have enough quality in the final third to be able to capitalize on their chances. Needless to say, if the Impact can find a goal before their opponents, they should be able to put the final nails in the coffin and advance.
A lot of pressure was on Jack McInerney when Porter went down with his season ending injury, thankfully for the club and himself he answered his critics in the best way, with an impressive goal against Orlando. Hopefully, that goal gives him the confidence and focus necessary to be more lethal in front of the goal, and he will be able to take advantage of his chances. If Montreal use their speed and skill in the wide areas especially, I don't believe Alejeulense will be able to find an answer to solve the Impact's attack.
Support the Right
If the game plays out anything like the first leg, the right side of the Impact is where Alejeulense will be looking to capitalize. Of the 28 crosses that were attempted by Alejeulense 19 were from the right side and 22 were from inside the penalty area. Bush will have to be on his toes ready to come out and challenge for balls and have a strong command of his area. He will also have to work with his back line to make sure that everyone remains in sync and nothing is left to chance.
Klopas may prove me wrong but I do believe that Cabrera will be given the start over Camara in this game because although he is still fairly inexperienced, so far, he has shown that does not let emotions get the better of him. In such an emotionally charged game Camara may not be the best option at right back. With the tandem of Soumare and Ciman back together it should have a calming effect on the rest of the back line
Don't look now but...
If the Montreal Impact can find a way to close this out, they could very well be heading back down to Costa Rica in a couple weeks to face another first division side in Herediano, that is in a wild battle with Mexican power house Club America. Herediano will find out their fate tomorrow night as they play their second leg in Mexico holding a 3-0 aggregate lead.
Finally, I have to give a shout out to all MLS fans that have been singing praises to Montreal for this magical ride! I know if it hard to show love for an opposing side but it has been truly amazing to read comments from Galaxy, Sounders, RSL, FCD, etc, fans of clubs from across the league showing support. Clearly, the Impact are not alone for this match, they now have the support of an entire league behind them cheering for success!