Marco Schällibaum decided to leave most of his stars behind in Montreal for the Impact's CCL clash in Guatemala, a decision that received backlash after the team lost 1-0.
But in its first away fixture of the group stage on Wednesday in Guatemala City, the Impact left the game empty-handed as CD Heredia snatched a goal in the dying minutes of the game after goalkeeper Evan Bush bobbled a cross in front of him, leaving Heredia’s Charles Cordoba with an easy finish from close range.
Marco Schällibaum started a mostly makeshift lineup against Heredia and Impact fans took to social media following the loss to voice their disapproval of the Swiss coach’s choices. The reality is that the Impact had to manage three games in seven days and it’s not because the Impact doesn’t care about the Champions League that the coach decided to leave several key players behind in Montreal, but because Schällibaum felt the team didn’t need them to get a positive result. The team that started against Heredia on Wednesday was more than capable of that.
Moreover, the artificial surface on which the game was played was atrocious and the Impact simply can’t afford to lose key players to lengthy injuries at this crucial stage of the season.
Of course, Adrian Lopez's undeserved ejection just before half-time didn’t help matters at all as the Impact were forced to play down a man for the entire second half.
The loss means the Impact will need a draw in San Jose against the Earthquakes to ensure qualification to the next round. San Jose should have little trouble beating Heredia at home and will likely manage a victory on the road in Guatemala as well, given the fact that the game will take place at the end of October and the Quakes’ will probably have nothing to play for in MLS at that point.
No MLS side has ever won the Champions League and that’s not something that’s going to likely change any time soon. MLS teams simply can’t compete with the budgets of the big Mexican sides.
The MLS Cup might very well be in reach for the Impact this season and so making the playoffs remains the priority for them, especially for Schällibaum, whose contract extension depends on the Impact making the postseason.
The Impact is also in the race for the Supporters Shield trophy which makes Saturday’s encounter against the Houston Dynamo a very important one, especially as the Impact will only have four home games left afterwards and has not fared very well on the road.
Obviously, the Impact would like to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League, but at the same time, the team doesn't want that to jeopardize its progress in the league.
Still, the team isn’t out just yet. Qualification to the next round remains very much in the players' hands.