After the Impact lost the first leg of the Canadian Championship semifinals, the Ultras fan group demanded a brighter display in the second leg and the Impact responded superbly.Just moments before Wednesday night’s Canadian Championship semifinal second-leg showdown between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, Marco Schällibaum looked over to the west-end stands of Saputo Stadium to read the banners put on display by the Impact’s Ultras.
A few days earlier against Chicago, the hardcore supporter group conducted a silent protest with banners voicing their strong disappointment with the Impact’s poor and seemingly disinterested display in the first leg against Toronto a week earlier, where the Impact lost 2-0.
This time, the Ultras were in full support of their team, with one banner even going so far as to demand the players to “annihilate” their visiting rivals.
And their wish was granted. The Impact needed to win by three goals to progress to the finals. In the end, they won by an emphatic six.
Two goals from Marco Di Vaio and goals from Justin Mapp, Daniele Paponi and Andres Romero made for a spectacular night. The atmosphere at Saputo Stadium was the loudest it’s ever been. The energy and tenacity shown on the field by the Impact was worthy of a cup game.
In the post-game press conference, Schällibaum insisted that the criticism that both he and the players received from the fans after the first leg was unjust, especially given the results the team has been able to obtain this year.
I disagree. The reaction from the fans was fair and necessary. It’s true that the team has performed exceptionally well so far this season, but the Canadian Championship is a separate issue. The Impact haven’t won the Cup since 2008 and there was little to no indication from the first leg that winning the tournament mattered all that much.
Captain Davy Arnaud and star forward Marco Di Vaio, who played pivotal roles in the second leg, didn’t even make the 45-minute trip for the first game.
The Ultras moment of silence during the Chicago game was a way of reminding the club that the Canadian Championship and beating Toronto was very important to them and that they expected nothing less than maximum effort.
The small protest was ultimately positive because it had Schällibaum and the players doubly pumped up for the second leg at home, determined to show a different face.
And that’s precisely what they did, as Schällibaum made a slew of important changes to the lineup and the team entered the game with an edge they've never shown before.
As Schallibaum explained in the post-game press conference, the players were really fired up for the match.
"I saw in training that the players were really charged for this game," Schallibaum said in French. "They looked like a wounded tiger. And when a tiger is wounded, he becomes very dangerous."
The Impact, who sit in first place in the eastern conference, will play three league games in the span of seven days before playing the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship final later this month. The winner over two legs will represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Winning the final won't be easy, as the Whitecaps are very keen on winning the tournament for the first time. But at the very least, the Impact will have an historic victory to look back on.
And it’s fair to say, the Ultras played a part in that.