Frustrated as Thierry Henry may have been, he’ll ultimately be satisfied with a result Montreal would have taken before kick-off.
His team battled well throughout, but as feared by all MLS teams at this stage of this competition, lack of match-conditioning was their un-doing as the final minutes ticked by.
In a ninety minutes uncannily similar to Montreal’s last quarter-final away leg in this competition, Pachuca in 2015, the only surprise was it took Saprissa until the very end to get back on terms.
It may not have happened though had Bojan taken better advantage of two second-half opportunities that came his way and Urruti’s beautifully arrowed drive from the edge of the box not been disallowed for a prior infringement by Brault-Guillard. Like most of his Impact tenure, the Argentinian was unlucky. It was, simply put, some strike.
But it also could have been worse for the Montrealers. It was only through Saprissa’s poor defending that they raced into a 2-0 lead. An inexplicable giveaway by Guzman went across his box and straight to Quioto. The Honduran the pick of Montreal’s performers on the night, found Bojan. The diminutive striker’s blast was blocked, falling to Okwonkwo who was coolness and explosivity in one, finishing then flipping as he celebrated in customary style.
The game was eleven minutes old. A fantastic start to the Henry-era.
It got better. Bojan was the provider for the second goal on 22 mins finding Quioto on the right. The former Houston man ran at Aubrey David, who invitingly showed him too much of the goal. Quioto didn’t need to be asked twice, lashing home to help himself to a debut goal.
On last night’s evidence you can see why Quioto could become a favourite at Stade Saputo.
Henry’s frustration manifested well before the concession of goals late in the second half. Any pre-match planning simply went out the window, as events on the field dictated conditions to the French coach. He lost Camacho (replaced by Waterman) and Okwonkwo (replaced by Urruti) before half an hour had lapsed, and Quioto had to be withdrawn in the 71st minute.
The Impact looked more weary as the second-half wore on. You felt a goal had to come... and it did.
Quioto and Corrales had combined encouragingly in an attacking role for most of the game, but also much of Saprissa’s danger-supply came from the same flank. It was from the that source that Saprissa halved the arrears. On 80 minutes former Impact player John Venegas rose above Brault-Guillard to power a thunderous header past Diop from 6 yards.
Encouraged by the goal, the home side sensed there would be more, as Montreal visibly tired. Again the cross came from the right flank, a low one this time and substitute Ariel Rodriguez was first to the ball, beating Diop with a near post stab on 90 mins.
Diop had earlier come up big for Montreal on a few occasions, most notable in bravely thwarting teenage starlet Ugalde, after which the Impact ‘keeper required treatment. Brault-Guillard on that occasion cleared on the line, matching a similar moment in the first-half when Raitala’s head came to Montreal’s safety.
On the night, the Montreal ‘keeper struggled with some high balls, but his shot-stopping and bravery was beyond question.
“I’m more than satisfied with the result,” said Impact head coach Thierry Henry.
“It’s not a bad result and it was a good fight. Unfortunately we lost players at the beginning of the game and we had to adjust. They also adjusted to us in the second half. With the quality they have in midfield, the way they were putting the ball inside and the way they were passing the ball in the second half, they were making us run and it became difficult.
“We played the first half very well and they played a very good second half. There are things we need to work on but at the end of the day, when you see your team fighting like this until the end, you can only be proud. Nothing is decided yet, with the second leg to be played at home next Wednesday.”
That second-leg at the ‘Big O’ should be a cracker next week. Far from being a foregone conclusion, Saprissa will be encouraged by how last night’s second-half unfolded. By then, Montreal Impact will have a further seven days invested towards developing their fitness and will be expected to seal the deal at home.
A large partisan crowd would help.
Montreal Impact (5-2-3, left to right): Clement Diop — Jukka Raitala, Rod Fanni, Jorge Corrales, Rudy Camacho (17’ Joel Waterman), Zachary Brault-Guillard — Samuel Piette, Amar Sejdic — Romell Quioto (71’ Ballou Tabla), Bojan, Orji Okwonkwo (28’ Maxi Urruti)
Deportivo Saprissa (4-4-2, left to right): Aaron Cruz — Ricardo Blanco, Roy Miller, Aubrey David, Yostin Salinas (46’ Michael Barrantes) — Christian Bolanos, David Guzman (77’ Ariel Rodriguez), Marvin Angulo, Mariano Torres — Manfred Ugalde (77’ Jonathan Martinez), Johan Venegas
Referee - Kimbett Ward (SKN)
Asst Ref - Graeme Browne (SKN)
Asst Ref - Mario Parry (SKN)
4th Official - Trevester Richards (SKN)