Let me preface my ratings from last night's epic win (and yes it was a win) with a response to people who have a problem with the concept of away goals, or those who mocked the Impact's two-legged victory because they lost last night's match. This particular tweet really grabbed my attention (I took out the author's name, though it should be noted that he is a member of sports media in Montréal):
"We're the best! Did we win? No."
Was this tweet in jest? Sure. Still, the sarcastic undertones were evident; the author's main objective of downplaying IMFC's huge accomplishment was as clear as day.
If you watched last night's game, you might have an idea now (if you didn't already) about how much of an advantage the home team has. Getting a goal in hostile territory, let alone two, is an accomplishment in of itself. With a two-goal lead going into the match, winning the match wasn't important. Even getting a draw wasn't paramount.
All the heavy lifting had already been done in Montréal, where the Impact defeated the Costa Ricans 2-0. By giving up zero away goals, the Impact had a huge advantage going into last night's game.
With all this in mind, Tuesday's contest played out accordingly. Alajuelense pressed like crazy, and Montréal countered when they could. When the Impact scored their 2nd away goal, Alajuelense started to play with the kind of desperation that you rarely see in a normal game. It's very hard to plan for this kind of onslaught.
A month ago I saw my other team, Arsenal, lose on away goals in the European Champions League to Monaco. After giving up three away goals in the first leg, Arsenal dominated the second leg, but it wasn't enough. They'd already dug themselves too deep a hole. The fact that they made Monaco look bad in the last half hour of that game didn't mean they were a better team. It just showed that they were the more desperate team.
What I'm getting at here is that last night's game was not some sort of stand-alone, winner-take all contest. In reality, it was actually an extension of the first leg, where the Impact dominated the play and won convincingly.
To fully appreciate what the Impact accomplished then in advancing to the CCL finals, one needs to fully understand the dynamics of the two-legged setup. The style of play by each team in both games was dictated by this setup.
At the end of the day, The Impact proved to be the better team and won their semifinal battle with Alajuelense, fair and square. It was a 180-minute battle, and they came out on top.
Coach: Frank Klopas - 8/10
I thought the Impact came in with a good plan. It was clear that they were not going to sit back, and they actively pushed for the all-important away goal in the first half. Klopas' substitutions were spot on. Romero and Tissot added fresh legs and aggressive pressing up and down the pitch, and Bernier was a solid, calming presence in midfield. The four goals were not indicative of bad management, but more on defenders being too gun-shy to make aggressive tackles in dangerous areas.
K: Evan Bush - 7/10
Considering he gave up four goals, I thought that Bush had a pretty decent game. He was caught off guard on the first goal when he moved slightly to his left when the ball was kicked to his right. The second and third goals he had no chance on. The only goal where I thought he was the most to blame was the fourth, where he seemed to misjudge the ball's trajectory. Otherwise, I thought he was aggressive on aerials in the area, and made a few key saves, one that he parried away into an effective counterattack.
CB: Laurent Ciman - 7/10
Ciman was exactly what the Impact needed: a defender who has played in a ton of pressure-cooker games and who knows how to deal with adversity. The Belgian made a ton of key clearances around the box, and was a calming influence in front of Bush. If not for the late, 2-goal barrage by the Costa Ricans, his mark would probably be higher.
RB: Victor Cabrera - 7/10
Another nice showing from the River Plate loanee. Was critical to the Impact's first goal, once again combining with Oduro down the right side to unlock the Alajuelense backline. He was aggressive on both ends of the pitch, and made a number of key tackles. Was a little unfortunate on a couple of occasions, however, that somewhat marred his performance. On the first Alajuelense goal, Soumare's wayward header put him into a bad position where he had to knock the attacker off the ball in a dangerous area. It was called a foul and they scored on the ensuing free-kick. On the fourth goal, Cabrera made an excellent tackle but then stayed down injured that led to a Alajuelense counter and subsequent free-kick. The free-kick position led to the goal seconds later.
LB: Donny Toia - 6.5/10
With most of the Alajuelense attack coming up the middle, Toia's job wasn't as under the microscope as that of his defense partners, but he put in a good shift nonetheless. Made very few errors on the pitch, and routinely was in the right spot for zone clearances. We've come to expect this sort of effort from Toia since the opening match of the season, and he ceases to disappoint.
CB: Bakary Soumare - 6.5/10
Besides the pretty dumb hair-pulling incident, Bakary did his job alongside Ciman. It's hard to really understand, maybe, how he and Ciman both had good games in a 4-2 loss, but they had little to do with the goals in my opinion. The Mali-native generally showed good composure throughout the contest, using his strength advantage to outmuscle attackers in and around the box.
DM: Nigel Reo-Coker 4.5/10
If there was one player in particular who needed to have a solid game it was Reo-Coker, and unfortunately he wasn't up for it on Tuesday night. It was a game that called for a strong-willed midfield presence, and I felt like he couldn't raise his game to the requisite level. Offensively he was fine, but with 2-0 lead going into the game, IMFC needed him to be more focused defensively, not chasing back from offensive positions to make tackles. His decision-making on the ball was again too slow, something we've seen from him on a number of occasions this year. I was also disappointed by his lack of aggressiveness in the tackle late in the match, but in all fairness, most of the team was similarly gun-shy.
DM: Calum Mallace - 6.5/10
Callum was the better of the two defensive midfielders, and really didn't do a whole lot wrong overall. He had a bit of shaky start to the game, missing coverage assignments and not going after the ball aggressively enough, but he got over his nerves as the game went along. Had as many defensive zone clearances as anyone else on the team, and didn't force too much up the pitch, keeping his passes and movements as simple and precise as possible.
LM: Dilly Duka 6.5/10
Paired up with Donny Toia down the left side, Dilly wasn't one of the most implicated players on the pitch for IMFC, but wasn't a detriment to the team either. Made a few nice runs down the left flank, and created a couple of fouls in the process. Overall, he was dangerous enough to keep the Alajuelense backline honest.
CAM: Ignacio Piatti - 7.5/10
Started the game a bit slow as he seemed to struggle a bit with the pitch, but his quality really started to shine through as the game went along, especially in the later stages. Was a key component to the Impact's 2nd goal, in which he flicked the ball over the top to a wide-open Oduro. Would have liked him to be a bit more composed on counter movements in the second half, as he seemed to rush where them too much. Still, his on-the-ball skill kept the Alajuelense defense off-balance, making them think twice about all-out attacks.
RM: Dominic Oduro 7.5/10
I liked what I saw from Oduro last night. In sharp contrast to Reo-Coker, Oduro played up to the game's intensity level, aggressively tracking back on defense, effectively keeping Alajuelense wing attack at bay. And he didn't sacrifice offense for defense either, recording two huge assists on both IMFC goals.
Striker: Jack McInerney - 8/10
Even before his goal, I was already really impressed by the way Jack-Mac started the game. In fact, I thought he was the best player on the pitch for the Impact up until that point. He did everything you want from a lone striker: He chested down a number of Bush goal kicks, and held up the play smartly. He made a couple of flick-ons (to Reo-Coker and Piatti) that led to goal-scoring chances. He scored a goal on an expertly timed run that showed the class of a true No. 9. In the second half he made another perfectly timed run that was wrongly judged offside. Overall, he just seemed ready for this contest, and played with a winning attitude throughout.
CM: Patrice Bernier - 7.5/10
Another solid outing for Bernier. Despite being his usual slow and methodical self, he was far from casual, demonstrating that he understood the urgency of the situation. He made quick, accurate passes, while rarely committing himself too high up the pitch. He was integral to the Impact's all-important second goal, beginning the counter attack that eventually led to Romero's strike. What I liked most about the buildup to that goal was the patience the Impact showed, and Bernier was a big part of that, giving up the opportunity to go for goal by passing to the more prolific and skillful Romero, who made no mistake.
RM: Andrés Romero - 7.5/10
Romero came on for Duka in the 61st minute and was immediately a danger down the wing with his pace and energy. His goal was not entirely surprising, considering how Alajuelense were sending too many men forward, but it was still a great showing of patience and skill on the ball. On a team that lacks goal-scoring threats, Romero is a sight for sore eyes.
LM: Maxim Tissot - 7/10
He only played about 10 minutes in the game, but that period felt like an eternity, and the young Quebecer proved to be a difference-maker. I really liked how he came in and just started running down players, immediately pressing them and forcing errors in the process. This effective pressing translated into a lot of wasted time, time that Alajuelense sorely needed to mount serious attacks.