The Montreal Impact have now had a week to digest the rollercoaster highs and lows that came with competing in the CONCACAF Champions League Finals. As disappointed as I was that the club fell just short of winning it all and becoming the 1st MLS club to win the tournament and qualifying for the Club World Cup, I am so proud of what the team did accomplish.
Even though they lost, they proved they could hang around with the big boys. For those who are new followers of the team, this club has come a long way, from the early days of playing in front of 200-300 people at Centre Claude-Robillard. Much was made about Joey Saputo's comments that the buzz surrounding the team was gone, with 61,004 people in the stands, it is clear, the buzz is back.
Marquons l'histoire was the slogan and mission and although they came up short of the ultimate prize I believe it was mission accomplished! The players, and coaches saw first hand how much love and support they city is ready to give them. Now the biggest test is seeing if the team can keep the momentum going.
The first chance the Impact will get comes tonight, against their cross-border rivals Toronto FC. Funny enough it is the opening Semi-Final leg of the Amway Canadian Championship.
What is at stake? Of course, as always a chance to stick it to their big-spending rivals but also a chance book a place in the final and an opportunity for bragging rights as the 2015 Canadian Champions.
It was announced yesterday that TFC were going to leave their big guns (Altidore & Giovinco) at home. So how will Klopas decide to approach this game? That remains to be seen, but we already know that he will not have everyone at his disposal with Cabrera, Camara and Toia all joining the Mapp and Porter on injured list.
Will hometown hero Patrice Bernier and Calum Mallace find a way back into the middle of the field? Serving as back up Bush, was always given the CCL matches as his, will Klopas give Eric Kronberg the same opportunity? Will we possibly see Romario Williams or Kenny Cooper get playing time up top?
One thing is certain, if the Impact want to be successful in the ACC and MLS this year Frank Klopas will have to make sure he keeps everyone fresh so that when the dog days of the summer come around, the players are not gassed.
With the MLS having re-arranged league games several times in an effort to help out the Impact during their Champions League run the club will have many regular season mid-week games. For the team, MLS play will resume this Saturday afternoon at Stade Saputo when the Portland Timbers will come to town. The usually strong Timbers are currently 8th in the Western Conference having picked up 10 points in 9 games.
In comparison, the Impact have picked up 2 points in 4 games. Yes, Montreal have a lot of ground to cover, but even with a slow start to the MLS season they find themselves 7 points out of the final playoff spot with 3 games in hand. One aspect working in their favor is, after having road trips in Mexico and Costa Rica, the Impact will be playing all but 1 league game (for the month of May) in the friendly confines of Stade Saputo. The club will have to find a way to get positive results with games against solid visiting clubs such as Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas, later in the month.
I have not been a fan of many decisions that Frank Klopas has made, but if he is winning and nobody will complain. But he cannot afford to let the team crumble like last season. I gave him a pass last year, for the most part because he inherited a horrible team. This year, it is his team, he has to find a way to get everyone to buy into what he is selling and make it work.
I never like bringing up the subject of the Montreal Canadiens when speaking of the Impact but I will break the rule this one time. With the Habs on the verge of collapse versus the Tampa Bay Lightning , if the Impact can find success in the early stages of the ACC and/or have a strong month of May and get themselves in the middle of the pack by the end of the month I believe that the love affair the city had with the Impact during their magical Champions League run will continue.
I think it is important for the team to find a way to seize the momentum. If the team is getting good results having games twice a week will help keep the spotlight on them, and will be encouraging for the casual or non-fan to maybe check out a few more games.
One thing is certain starting tonight against TFC, the Montreal Impact will be having games come at them fast and furious, and will have to be ready to capture the moment.
The Champions League run was magical, now the real work begins!