With a Canadian Championship triumph and the best points-per-game average in MLS, the Montreal Impact have positioned themselves to compete for the highest honours.
In what was one of the more exciting games in the competition’s short history, the Montreal Impact played the Whitecaps to a 2-2 draw Wednesday night in Vancouver to clinch their eighth Voyageurs Cup on away goals.
The intensity and quality exhibited by both sides at BC Place lends much-needed credence to a tournament that has, for the most part, lacked the spark and flavour that one would come to expect from a cup competition - Wednesday’s display bodes well for future editions of the tournament.
With the exception of Hassoun Camara taking the place of Dennis Iapichino at fullback, Marco Schällibaum opted for the same offensive lineup which beat the Philadelphia Union 5-3 on the weekend.
As Justin Mapp, Andres Romero and Felipe looked to constantly get forward from midfield - leaving Patrice Bernier to cover ground and break up plays through the whole width of the field on his own- the Whitecaps would easily find space between the Impact’s midfield and defensive lines, which lead to plenty of scoring chances for Vancouver early on.
But after opening the scoring through Camilo in the fourth minute from a superb free kick, the Whitecaps wasted a slew of opportunities to put the Impact beyond reach and Montreal was eventually rewarded for its attacking approach as it found the all-important away goals it needed.
The Voyageurs Cup win means that the Impact have now qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League, which pits the top 24 teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
The first stage consists of a double-round robin across eight groups of three teams. The winner of each group will qualify for the quarterfinals, which takes place in the spring of 2014.
The concern for Montreal is that an extra four games between August and October could hinder the team’s playoff push. However, the Impact are in good standing in the Eastern Conference as they already hold a seven-point advantage over the Columbus Crew in sixth place and have a game in hand as well. With ten games to play before the Champions League group stage kicks off in August, the Impact could already essentially seal a playoff spot beforehand.
However, considering they are also in the running for the MLS Supporters Shield title, which would give the Impact home field advantage through the duration of the playoffs and a pass on the first round, league play should probably take precedence over the Champions League group stage.
If the Impact get a Mexican side in Monday’s draw in Miami, qualifying for the quarterfinals will be a largely hopeless endeavour anyway.
But the Champions League will also give Montreal an opportunity to rotate its squad and give a chance to players that haven’t been able to see the field all that much. And as far as depth is concerned, there really aren’t too many teams in MLS that can boast of being better off.
For now, though, the Champions League is still two months away. The Impact are in second place in the East and with several games in hand on the leading New York Red Bulls. With a Canadian Championship in the bag to boot, they can take a moment to cherish what’s been a perfect season so far and look forward with optimism to bigger things ahead.