After an invigorating Canadian Championship title win over rival Toronto FC, the Impact still have everything to play for, despite a difficult start to the season.MONTREAL - By their very nature, and as their name suggests, the ‘Ultras’ tend to be a little extreme. On Wednesday night, in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final, the Montreal Impact’s hardcore fan group unveiled a banner at the west end of Stade Saputo warning that it was the Impact’s last chance “to save their season.”
After playing to a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Toronto last week, Montreal only needed a scoreless draw to retain its Canadian Champion crown. The game was mostly scoreless, until Felipe put the Impact on the board in second-half stoppage time. Toronto was pushing hard for a goal just before. Coach Ryan Nelsen had all four of his forwards on the field for the last fifteen minutes, but the Impact held strong; they rode their luck too, as Jonathan Osorio’s shot in the 83rd minute was only kept out by the post.
With the Reds pushing everyone forward in the dying minutes of the game, there were plenty of avenues for the Impact to exploit on the counter attack. Marco Di Vaio, who turns 38 in July, was still running, offering outlets in transition. In the third minute of extra time, the Italian found space in the Toronto area, blasted a shot off the crossbar, and Felipe cleaned up the rebound, sending the Stade Saputo crowd into raptures for the first time this year. The Impact won 1-0 (2-1 on aggregate).
“Sometimes things are just meant to be,” Montreal coach Frank Klopas said after the game. “Regardless of how we started the season, I know sometimes things take time and I know that a lot of people are not that patient, and it’s all about the results. I understand, you need to get results, but my group never lost faith in what we were doing.
“[Winning this tournament] was one of our goals, but we have a long way to go this season, and we’re right there.”
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The Canadian Championship title doesn’t save the Impact’s season, but it certainly gives them more to look forward to as they will represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League group phase later this summer. It also gives the Impact a much needed confidence boost.
“It’s good for team morale. It’s good for the spirits of the club,” midfielder Patrice Bernier said. “Last year we were on a high and we seemed unstoppable … This season has been difficult. We’ve battled through it, but it’s not been easy.”
Though the Impact sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in MLS after 12 games, they aren’t out of the playoff picture just yet. Last weekend’s stunning win over first place New England puts them seven points back. Another win against D.C. United at home next week could put them almost in striking distance before the World Cup break with games in hand.
The most important thing is that the Impact are starting to play good soccer. Klopas is getting his tactics right. Hernan Bernardello is looking like a player that’s worth a designated player tag. Bernier is starting to hit form. Andres Romero is playing with confidence. New additions in Jack McInerney and Issey Nakajima-Farran have provided the Impact attack with more options and punch.
And in the next week or so, the Impact are expected to announce the signing of San Lorenzo star Ignacio Piatti, who would become the team’s third designated player. With Piatti’s addition to the left side of midfield, and Justin Mapp playing the soccer of his life on the right, the Impact could really terrorize defences this year.
There's still a lot of work to be done for the Impact, especially in defence where, despite two consectuive clean sheets, they remain fragile. But things can change so quickly. The team’s situation doesn’t look as grim as it did a week ago. Suddenly there’s some hope and joy at Stade Saputo.
The Impact don’t need saving just yet. They’re still very much alive.