The dust has settled from the Montreal Impact’s improbable CONCACAF Champions League run and players and fans alike have put the tournament in their rearview mirror. It is time to move on, cherish the good memories, and be thankful for the exposure. However with that being said, one last look at the two Mexican teams the Impact encountered in the knockout phase is worthwhile.
A week and a half ago, second seed Club America and seventh seed Pachuca squared off in a wild second leg quarterfinal matchup in the Clausura Liguilla. After Pachuca’s 3-2 win at Estadio Hidalgo (the same grounds Dilly Duka scored his brace), both teams headed to the Azteca on May 16 for the decisive return leg.
In a back and forth game, the score was deadlocked at 2-2 late in the match, with Pachuca leading 5-4 on aggregate. Club America were only seeking one goal, as by Liga MX rules if both teams are tied on aggregate and away goals, the higher seed advances. Similar to their attitude against Montreal in the second half of the CCL final, Club America never really seemed all that fazed. In the 88’ minute of the game, Michael Arroyo’s dazzling free kick from well out looked to be the difference maker for the Mexican giants. The Azteca exploded, manager Gustavo Matosas walked down the touchline with a sly grin, and the America players mobbed Arroyo near the corner flag. They had a scare early on, just like with Andres Romero’s goal, but they kept their cool and didn’t panic, exuberating the confidence of all highly talented teams.
This time however, it wasn’t in the cards for Las Aguilas. Knowing full well that games aren’t over until the final whistle, Pachuca pushed the match in the dying moments and they were rewarded for their efforts. An obvious handball in the box gave Pachuca a chance from the spot to tie the game 3-3 and take a 6-5 lead on aggregate. They did not miss. Two minutes later, German Cano, who scored the lone Pachuca goal in the second leg versus the Impact, sealed the victory 4-3 (7-5). Club America had officially crashed out of the playoffs and they sacked their coach in the following days. The most ironic part: The game-winning goal from Dario Cvitanich came four minutes deep into stoppage time. Sound familiar?
Now by examining the game, it is interesting and evident how the different experiences playing against Montreal shaped both teams’ mentalities during the second leg. For America, even after going one goal down to the Impact at half, they seemed to have control over the game. They believed that eventually things would swing in their favor and they were right. In the second half at the Big O, they acted very business-like. They were not panicked or frustrated, they simply pulled themselves together and won the game. So, when Arroyo’s free kick found the net, the Club America players blew a sigh of relief and believed they had finally outdone the pesky Pachuca squad, much like they did with Montreal.
Last March, during the post-game press conference, minutes after Cameron Porter’s dramatic goal, Pachuca coach Diego Alonso referred to his team’s "innocence" as being one of the main factors behind the result. "Our lack of experience showed," the Uruguayan manager mumbled to the press. A few mental mistakes committed by Pachuca players in the final moments, especially teenager Hirving Lozano going for goal rather than heading towards the corner flag, left the door open for the Bleu-Blanc-Noir. The ball would end up at the feet of Calum Mallace and the rest is, of course, history. Against Club America, Pachuca played all the way until the referee blew his whistle. By losing in that fashion at the hands of the Impact, Los Tuzos learned an important lesson the hard way on that snowy night. It was a lesson that certainly paid dividends in the Liga MX quarterfinals.
It is inarguable that the Montreal Impact had a big effect on both of these teams during the CCL. They disposed of Pachuca and took Club America down to the wire. Now, with almost a month gone since the final, most people would say the Montreal Impact are far from the minds of these two Mexican clubs. I’m saying that they are not as far as some might think.