Club America defeated the Montreal Impact 4-2 (5-3 aggregate) last night, ending the Impact’s unlikely dream of winning the CONCACAF Champions League, while extending Mexican dominance of the regional club tournament.
With all of Major League Soccer behind them, the Impact had pulled off an unlikely 1-1 tie at Club America’s home, Estadio Azteca, last Wednesday night.
With the stage nicely set for Montreal to become the first MLS Champion since the CCL was expanded in 2008, last night’s return match started well for the home side.
Ignacio Piatti did some fine work to set up Andreas Romero for the eighth minute opener, thrilling the sellout crowd of over 60,000. Piatti had a golden opportunity to extend Montreal’s lead late in the first half, but the 30 year old Argentine scuffed his chance, when a goal might have made all the difference.
Montreal’s dream quickly became a nightmare under a second half barrage of Club America goals, with Dario Benedetto putting three past recent Montreal signing Kristian Nicht.
The Impact had a goalkeeping emergency on its hands when Evan Bush was suspended for the final for yellow card accumulation. A bizarre rumor that the Chicago Fire would send Sean Johnson to Montreal on a short term loan proved to be unfounded, or perhaps the league and the clubs involved thought better of the move after news of the possible transaction was greeted with widespread incredulity.
In any case, Nicht signed on Monday following a transfer from NASL club Indy Eleven. The 35-year-old German could only be faulted on America’s second goal, Nicht was out of position on Oribe Peralta’s tally in the 64th minute.
Benedetto left Nicht helpless on each of his hat trick worth of goals, in minutes 50, 66, and 81. Impact sub Jack McInerney scored a consolation goal in the 89th minute, but by then the Championship had been secured by the Mexican side.
MLS badly wanted for Montreal to win this championship, manipulating the league schedule to give the Impact every advantage. While America faced bitter rivals Chivas on Sunday in a Liga MX Clasico, Montreal has been resting up since a 3-0 loss in Houston on April 11, and has played just four games this season, losing two and drawing two.
This loss hurt MLS in light of Commissioner Don Garber’s stated goal that the league would be among the world’s best by 2020. With Club America’s victory confirming the Mexican professional league’s dominance of the region’s club championship, Garber’s goal remains some distance in the future.
So, when will Major League Soccer finally claim the CCL title? And what has to change?
The league’s restrictive salary cap is a good place to start. The cap has been credited with keeping costs down, but club depth has suffered, and depth is crucial to teams hoping to succeed in both league and cup play.
The recent CBA won’t significantly loosen the league purse strings, so clubs will continue to wage an uphill battle against the top Liga MX clubs.
Meanwhile, MLS will continue to struggle in the CCL if the league’s top sides don’t prioritize the tournament. Montreal finished with the least points in MLS last season, and with the playoffs out of the picture early, the Impact put all of its chips on the CCL.
With all due respect to Montreal, MLS hopes would surely have been better last night if it was Los Angeles or Seattle carrying the league’s banner against Club America.