The dream is over. After three stingy halves of football, the Montréal Impact finally succumbed to Club América's attack, which was, lets face it, very impressive. Their sheer quality of passing and movement is better than any team I've seen in MLS, and rivals some teams I've watched in Europe. Offensively, this is a very, very good squad. Defensively, they were not so impressive, which leads me to my first talking point of the article.
Good defense can win you games, and even championships. Unfortunately, bad offense can sometimes overrule your team's good defense, and that is what happened to the Impact on Wednesday, to an extent.
The Impact's first half was another display of expertly played and strategized football. Besides the one headed-on chance that América should have scored on, Montréal played the way they had done in Mexico. They scored a quick goal and were defending well, giving up very few clear-cut chances.
Offensively though, a trend was emerging, one that surely Club América had picked up on in the first leg, but was now really becoming clear. The Impact were abysmal on any kind of set piece (free kick, corner) or any kind of play in the air. Suddenly the light bulb for the Mexican side went off at half time:
We don't really have to worry about defending anymore, and if we get in trouble, we'll just foul.
The second half began and you could see right away that América were now playing a much more free-flowing style, and with the kind of confidence you'd expect from a team up a goal, not down one. This is how you play when you're not afraid of getting scored on.
Once the first goal went in, the game took a real turn emotion-wise. The Impact started to play scared, and América kept coming in waves. I sat there in the stadium with my chin in my hands, waiting for the inevitable to happen. And when América did finally score their second goal, you could see the dejection on the Impact side, like they'd lost any will to push forward.
Of course, the Impact's defense played a huge part in the loss. After watching the game again at home, a couple of things really stood out. One, Reo-Coker was beaten very badly on a few occasions down the wing, and was directly to blame on at least two goals. I don't care how many times he's played RB in the past, he should never play there again. Secondly, Toia clearly got a knock at some point early in the second half, and that really hurt the Impact's defensive shape.
The Montreal Impact was already in trouble going in against this Mexican side, but to rely on a 3rd choice RB and an injured LB for the first 20 minutes of the second half was a lot to ask.
Elsewhere, Soumare could have been better, specifically in the air. He's a really big dude, so you can give him an out for not always being good with his feet, but when he needed to come up big with headers in the box, he pretty much came up flat.
With the offense mostly a non-factor for a large part of the night, the defense finally caved into América's onslaught of pressure. With a healthy Toia and a Camara or Cabrera playing at RB, I think things could have gone a whole lot differently. But such were the cards that were drawn by the Impact, and they gave it their best shot; I truly believe that.
Coach: Frank Klopas - 4/10
I think Klopas had an opportunity at the beginning of the second half to really put his mark on the game by making one or two changes, but failed in that respect. At around the 55th minute mark it was clear that a few players were really laboring out there (Romero, Toia, Reo-Coker) but he waited until the 67th minute to take off a player, Donadel, who I thought was not a player they needed to take off at that point. Toia was not right for most of the second half, and by the time he was subbed at the 70th minute it was already 3-1 and the game pretty much over. Re-watching the game, I noticed Klopas doing a lot of yelling and barking at refs and probably not enough evaluation of his players on the pitch.
K: Kristian Nicht - 5/10
I wasn't very impressed with the NASL vet. He seemed pretty sluggish out there, and didn't exactly exude confidence. That said, he didn't really stand much of a chance on the three goals, even the first one. I initially thought he was mostly at fault on that one, but man, that ball was rocketed in, and it's always more difficult to anticipate where one-timed shots are going. Still, he seemed a bit too casual on headers in the box, or simply didn't have the mobility or awareness to be better at defending them.
CB: Laurent Ciman - 7.5/10
Ciman was, as he tends to be, one of the few bright spots for the Impact on the night. My theory is that he's the only defender on the club who's actually seen a similar type of offense to that of América. He generally didn't over-commit to headers like his defensive partners were doing, and was more often than not in the right place at the right time to clear balls away. One thing though, Laurent: Please stop taking free kicks. It's just not happening, bro.
CB: Bakary Soumare - 4.5/10
Ouch, not a good game for the usually steady Malian. Was caught ball watching on the América chance in the first half that should have been a goal, and then looked bad on the first and second goals, either due to ball watching or over-committing to one side on a header. He wasn't the only one to blame, but I just find it appalling that the defense didn't know where these headed-on balls at the far post were going. Soumare's overall awareness was really at an all-time low in this game.
LB: Donny Toia - 7/10
Toia was actually having another excellent match up until early in the second half, where he started to look labored out there. Before then he seemed to have no difficulty negating any offensive pushes down the left flank. It's no wonder really that the Impact really collapsed once he got hurt, which seemed to happen around the 56th minute mark.
RB: - Nigel Reo-Coker 3.5/10
Reo-Coker did not look like the type of player you wanted to have guarding waves of rushes down the wing, and it ended up really costing the impact. Was out of position or too slow to react on the first three América goals. The fact that he played the entire game is pretty sad or ridiculous: you pick. The reality of it all was that there simply wasn't many, if any, better options on the bench at the Impact's disposal.
DM: Marco Donadel 7/10
I had very few qualms with Donadel's game on Wednesday, and I'm really not fully understanding where all the backlash is coming from. On a night where the Impact did a lot of ball watching, Donadel did his fair share of breaking up the play, and similarly to the last game he played, I thought he was just warming up when he was taken off. I thought he put in a decent enough shift, especially considering how América were attacking without much of a conscience in midfield.
DM: Calum Mallace - 7/10
Partnered with Donadel in the holding role, Mallace was mostly solid in possession against América. Did get caught ball watching on one huge chance in the first half, but I guess that was the theme of the night for the Impact players. Overall I thought he played with confidence, and won more balls then he gave away in midfield.
LM: Dilly Duka 6.5/10
Dilly put in a pretty decent shift for the most part, especially in the first half where he put enough pressure on the Mexican backline to keep them honest. Maybe the energy he exerted in the first half tracking back on defense and countering hard on offense hurt him a bit, because he seemed a lot less aggressive in the second half. A good outing, but he just seemed to run out of gas.
CAM: Ignacio Piatti - 7.5/10
When the game began, it looked like it was going to be Piatti's big night. He made a hell of a play on the opening goal, and really put the América backline on notice for the next 30 minutes or so. Unfortunately, the missed opportunity he had at the 30th minute kind of killed his momentum a little, and then just seemed to play a bit frustrated from that point on, holding on to the ball too long and losing possession in the process. On a couple of occasions before halftime he easily could have picked out Oduro with a ball, but decided to hold on to it to try to draw a foul. Picked out MacInerny nicely for the Impact's second goal, but the game was over by then.
RM: Andrés Romero - 7.5/10
A real workhorse performance by the Argentinian, and was full value on the opening goal. Was a ball of energy in the first half, putting as much effort into his defensive responsibilities as his offensive ones, and even over and above the call of duty on many occasions in that respect. Like most of the Impact team, however, he didn't have enough left in the tank in the second half. Overall though, Romero played one of his better games of the year.
Striker: Dominic Oduro 8/10
As far as I'm concerned, Dominic really put it all out on the line on Wednesday night. If this was a regular MLS game, he probably would have drawn about 3-4 yellow cards, easily. He was a terror out there for the first half especially, and I was impressed by his creativity on the ball to create space for himself and teammates. If anything, it was his teammates who let him down, as they seemed to too often ignore his good runs in and around the box.
Subs: Jack McInerney, Maxim Tissot, Patrice Bernier
I'll group them altogether today because they came in to the game when it was all but over, and the dynamics of the game had been changed irrevocably. Neither of them really distinguished themselves, though JackMac will take a bit of confidence away from his fine finish late on.
At the end of day you can look back at this match and really see it as a game of two halves: The first half, where the Impact gave everything they had and scored once, and the second half, where América gave their best effort and scored four. In a match where defense was thrown out the window from seemingly the first minute, the Mexican always had the advantage.
Pace was one of the biggest factors in the game. The Mexican side were able to control the tempo, which was at breakneck pace for most of the first half. They didn't score, but the aforementioned pace had the desired effect, and once the second half got rolling it was obvious which team had the most energy going forward.
To conclude, it was a heartbreaking loss to be sure, but hopefully no will forget this moment in Canadian soccer history, when a team from Canada came ever so close to winning it all. So much had to go right for the Impact to come away victorious, because so much had gone against them in the buildup to this final.
Whether it was penalties given, red cards not awarded, or hard luck injuries, Somehow the Impact overcame them all, right up until the penultimate final contest. Playing, let alone winning, in the Concacaf Champions League is a truly grueling test of will and courage, and the Impact players passed with flying colours. They should be commended for their efforts, and supported all the more for it.
So chin up Impact fans, and keep rooting for the home team. Montréal, allez, allez!!