I am very pleased overall with the 2016 season of l’Impact de Montréal. Remaining in the final four of a playoff series against teams that outspent your own is never an easy feat to accomplish. However, I cannot bring myself to admit that this season was without disappointment. Montréal failed to bring home their own trophy, the chalice that bears the name of the original inhabitants of Ville-Marie; the Voyageurs Cup. That was the most disappointing moment of the 2016 season.
I have written previously how important the Voyageurs Cup has become to Montréal soccer lore, and how the cup has spent more than half its existence in Montréal, despite having many teams compete for the same privilege. However, it is not the trophy itself that funds this disappointment, but rather the absence of the benefits winning incurs. As is common knowledge, the winner of the Voyageurs Cup is entered into the CONCACAF Champions League. The Champions League is easily the most exciting soccer on the continent.
I would gladly trade a few games of the MLS Playoffs – even against Toronto FC - for another chance at international glory in the Champions League.
Last week, Club América played in the FIFA Club World Cup against Réal Madrid. They were defeated 2-0, as was expected. However, they were only invited to the Club World Cup because they had advanced against Montréal in 2015 in the most epic match in club history. Think about that. Le bleu-blanc-noir were moments away from being able to step onto a pitch in Japan, and play against Christiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema. The game was broadcast to tens of millions worldwide.
And we missed our chance.
L’Impact de Montréal failed to win the Voyageurs Cup in 2015. That led to the firing of Frank Klopas. In my mind, failing to recapture the trophy that gained your club access to the most important game it has ever played was his greatest sin, including the abysmal 2014 season. Likewise, Mauro Biello failed to capture the trophy again in 2016. Mauro, however, knows Montréal. He was with the club during their meteoric rise to the Champions League quarter-finals in 2009, and was assistant coach for their 2015 attempt. He understands that this trophy, and access to the Champions League must be a priority for a club with an internationalist and cosmopolitan reputation.
Mauro Biello has publicly stated that one of the objectives in 2017 is to recapture the Voyageurs Cup. This is welcome news, and in my opinion should be the benchmark against how the club is judged next season. Gaining entrance into the Champions League must be a club priority.
The fact that both Vancouver and Toronto will get a chance to surpass the record of Montréal in the Champions League in coming seasons will hang like the Sword of Damocles over the club’s collective neck. Their reputation as Canada’s club with the best international record is at stake.
The 2016 season was by almost every measure was a success. A deep run in the playoffs, moments of massive excitement and impressive performances from players who have become club legends all contributed to the great run of form the club enjoyed. Perhaps in 2017, Mauro Biello will lead the Impact back into the Champions League, and alleviate any lingering doubt that soccer has truly arrived in Montréal. We can only watch and find out.