Impact in the Azteca!
by Luis Eduardo Flores
The time had finally come; the 1st leg of CONCACAF Champions League final. It came to no surprise that Mexico’s America made it to the final. The real surprise is America’s opponent; MLS’ Montreal Impact. No one saw the Impact making it this far in the tournament.
Initially, Impact was drawn into Group 3, along with fellow MLS team, the New York Red Bulls. Through consistency in every aspect, Impact was able to push through the next round with 3 wins and 1 draw. In the next round, they faced one of the two remaining Mexican teams; Pachuca. This was a clear upset, with Impact eliminating Pachuca on away goals. In the next round, Impact barely secured their qualification into the next round with a 2-0 win over Costa Rica’s Alajuelense in the first leg. Despite a 4-2 loss to Alajulense in the 2nd leg; it wasn’t enough to eliminate Impact from the competition. Rather, Impact’s two goals sent them to the final against one of Mexico’s franchise teams; “Las Aguilas de la America”.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage for the Impact was the fact that they had to face America in Mexico’s iconic stadium; Estadio Azteca, the home of America and Mexico’s national team. Plus, this was the first time that an MLS team ever played in the Azteca. It would be no surprise if Impact felt nervous in this environment.
Despite the home advantage, America wasn’t able to make anything out of it. Whether if America fans admit it or not, this was clearly embarrassing. America was facing the same team that only won seven of its past 47 games. This is the same team that finished with a 6-18-10 record last season; pretty much at the end MLS of the food chain.
Impact survived what could’ve have been an onslaught. A goal ruled offside in the first half was clearly a saving grace for the team. Even with that scoring opportunity, Evan Bush made various outstanding saves out of the 28 shots from America. Following Piatti’s 16th minute goal, Impact started to push forward; aiming to make history.
Another clear chance came in around the 28th minute mark. Once again Piatti worked his way back America’s side through a counterattack. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in drawing out keeper Munoz. Instead, Piatti’s attempt went wide; along with a potential victory.
By the end of the 1st half, America was the dominate force on the field. With 67.1% ball possession, with 28 shots (9 shots on target) to Impact’s 4 shots. It was not until the 2nd half that America was able to breathe peacefully. Mexico’s international star saved America from pure embarrassment. Peralta worked his way onto Impact’s side to score on the 89th minute to secure a draw. Maybe the flashing green light in Bush’s eyes provided Peralta with the assist.
If there’s anything to question, it was the refereeing on behalf of Honduran official Hector Rodriguez. Maybe America’s Martinez deserved more than a yellow card after pulling down Oduro from behind on America’s side.
In the end we learned that America has failed to convince its supporters that this was going to be a one sided game. As both teams head towards the 2nd leg of the final, knowing that victory will grant them a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup should be motivating.
Photos: extrafutbol.com, nbcsports.com.