MLS play took precedence over the Champions League for the Impact, but judging by the intensity of Tuesday's crowd against Heredia, many fans wanted the opposite approach.
With Marco Schällibaum ruling out any chance of the Montreal Impact progressing to the knockout phase and most of the team’s starters not featuring in the game, there wasn’t supposed to be much of an atmosphere at Stade Saputo on Tuesday for the Impact’s final fixture of the Champions’ League group stage. Yet it turned out to be one of the more energetic and noisier home games so far this year.
With the Impact chasing for a playoff spot in MLS, there was a whole lot more at stake in Saturday’s league encounter with the Vancouver Whitecaps, but it didn’t come close to offering the same fervent ambiance that the Champions League tie did. Nearly twice as many Ultras showed up for the game.
Tuesday's atmosphere wasn’t a chance occurrence. The Canadian Championship and Champions League games at Stade Saputo this year have all been substantially more boisterous and passionate than MLS encounters. Many Impact fans hold the domestic and CONCACAF cup games in higher regard; some would even argue that these competitions are all that matter - which explains why the team received significant backlash when it decided to not dress many key starters in Toronto against TFC in the Canadian Championship and in Guatemala City against CD Heredia in the Champions League.
For only a second season in MLS, it is understandable that the Impact would want to prioritize league play over the Champions League, but henceforth, the Impact will need to think twice before doing so again.
At the very least, their intentions should be clearly stated beforehand.
Give the youngsters a chance
Impact academy products Maxim Tissot, Wandrille Lefevre and Karl Ouimette all played the full 90 minutes on Tuesday and gave a good account of themselves, albeit against fairly weak opponents. It’s a shame that these local players haven’t been given a whole lot of playing time this season.
Were players like Hassoun Camara and Jeb Brovsky really any better when the Impact first started out in MLS? The difference was that, despite plenty of defensive gaffes, Camara and Brovsky played a ton in the first year because the Impact didn’t really have much of a choice. But the more they played the better they became. Camara and Brovsky have now become indispensable for the Impact at the back.
If Tissot, Lefevre and Ouimette aren’t given the chance they’ll never develop. Unfortunately, now that there’s a lot more on the line in league play, it’s not an ideal time to throw them into the ring.
They might have to wait until next season to get a real opportunity.
Playoffs by no means sealed
Having lost their last two games in MLS, Montreal only has a six point lead over the playoff chasing Chicago Fire and Philadelphia Union. The Impact could fall dangerously close to a place outside the playoffs should they lose their next two games on the road to Chicago and Houston, places where the Impact haven't yet managed to win.
The Impact will then host the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union at Stade Saputo, but will also have to play their rescheduled away fixture against the Los Angeles Galaxy in between and the Impact haven’t usually been very good at playing three games in seven days.
The final day of the season in Toronto could potentially be decisive. TFC have struggled this year, but the Impact have never won at BMO Field.
Luckily for the Impact, DP Hernan Bernardello is starting to run again and might be able to make a return against the Dynamo.