By AARON CRANFORD
The Montreal Impact didn’t need to win or draw at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto, they just had to hold on. And with a 4-4 aggregate scoreline, the Impact advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League final on the away goals rule.
For a majority of the 90 minutes in Alajuela, Costa Rica, hearts were in the throats of Impact supporters, but with the 4-4 result, the Impact become the first Canadian team to ever reach the CCL final.
Montreal also becomes only the second MLS team in the Champions League era to reach the final (joining 2011 Real Salt Lake). No MLS team has won in the newest era of the competition.
Goals from Jack McInerney in the first half and Andres Romero in the second gave the Canadian side the answers they needed to pass the test down in Costa Rica.
The Impact will play the winner of Club America or Herediano in the two-leg CONCACAF Champions League final. Herediano holds a 3-0 first-leg lead on Club America, with the series returning to Mexico City on Wednesday night.
Montreal will host the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final on April 29th at Olympic Stadium.
The tension and physical play was inevitable, and Jonathan McDonald received the first caution of the night after fouling Evan Bush in the box. In the first half, 18 fouls were called by Salvadorian Joel Aguilar with 11 of the fouls coming from the Impact. Evan Bush received a card for wasting time on a goal kick while Dominic Oduro was also shown a yellow card for preventing an Alajuelense attack.
The Impact did not back down from the fight at hand, playing a tough 45 minutes to hold the Costa Rican side scoreless. Belgian international Laurent Ciman dominated the back, helping his side clear 17 chances in the first half alone.
And their strong defensive effort was rewarded when Oduro sent a low cross into the box, and McInerney blasted it past Alajuelense goalkeeper Dexter Lewis’ left-hand side. The crowd went silent.
But right out of the second-half gates, Alajuelense answered. Pablo Gabas thumped a free kick past Bush in the 47th minute, and the crowd roared, urging their side on to continue the four-goal comeback.
And 13 minutes later, Gabas scored again. The midfielder tallied his second after toe-poking an in-swinging corner kick past Bush. In the 67th minute, Jonathan MacDonald had a wonderful chance to grab the third in the 67th minute, but his effort went inches wide.
As McInerney left the field in the 70th minute, he and Gabas got into a small scuffle, and Aguilar showed each a yellow card. The intensity and anxiety kept building.
But Alajuelense’s dreams fell so, so short. Romero gave Montreal their second of the night after remaining cool, calm and collected in the box. In a quick combination, Oduro found an open Patrice Bernier running toward goal, but Bernier passed the chance to a wide open Romero, who faked one shot, looked at the empty net and coolly slotted it in.
Allen Guevara added another for La Liga in the 79th minute, giving the home side a chance to comeback once again on the night. And in the 93rd minute, MacDonald scored Alajuelense’s fourth. The crazy comeback was almost complete, but there was just not enough time on Aguilar’s wristwatch. As the Salvadorian blew the whistle, Impact players and coaches could not hide their excitement on the field. They had made history.