By Eve // @evejulia9
It is no secret that the Montréal Impact’s season has derailed rather spectacularly since my arrival in the city. As the team has dropped to 9th in the Eastern Conference, the level of cynicism and disengagement had reached an all-time high at Stade Saputo.
However, in Canada, there’s more to life than just the MLS playoffs. There’s a trophy known as the Voyageurs Cup. Winning the trophy is the only way a Canadian team can enter the CONCACAF Champions’ League, and the Cup was created by fans of the Canadian National team in 2002. Since then, the Impact had won the trophy nine times, leading to some of the most iconic moments in the club’s history.
With the inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League underway for the 2019 edition of the competition, the format was expanded. To reach the competition, the Bleu-Blanc-Noir had to face York 9 FC and Cavalry FC in order to take on reigning champs, and bitter enemy, Toronto FC.
Lo and behold, the Impact found themselves in a two-legged final competition once again with their number-one rivals. As the disappointing performances mounted in MLS competition and turbulence continued to swirl around the team, most fans entered into the first leg with a feeling of, “I hope Toronto doesn’t humiliate us too badly.”
Sometimes it’s almost impossible to explain how a match plays out like it does. One team has the momentum, the firepower, and the luck on their side. But sometimes the other just wants it that much more.
The first leg in Montréal proved that the Bleu-Blanc-Noir still had some fire left in them. Despite many of the players having not been part of the team for longer than a season, winning the trophy meant a lot. Ignacio Piatti scored a blistering goal, Clément Diop stood on his head, and Victor Cabrera earned back the pride he had lost in the 2016 Eastern Conference Final by confidently shutting down Jozy Altidore to enter the return leg with a 1-0 advantage.
I’ve probably said it a hundred times – BMO Field is not kind to the Impact. They didn’t win a match in MLS there until 2016, and regardless of the competition, further victories have been few and far between. With the likes of Altidore and Alejandro Pozuelo ready to play 90 minutes against an Impact missing Saphir Taïder through yellow card suspension, feelings were mixed about how the match would play out. Montréal had choked twice in recent history against their bitter rivals in that hostile territory, but the fragile hope that comes only in a cup final was running deep among the fans.
This is where I have to be honest: I didn’t watch very much of the match. Given that TFC absolutely had to score a goal, and the Impact had to at least protect a lead, the home team essentially laid siege to the Impact’s defensive third and dominated possession. As it turns out, I don’t have the mental fortitude to handle that level of tension, and I spent large stretches of the match with my hands over my eyes. The drama was far from over though, as a series of controversies late in the second half led my nerves to reach a crescendo.
As Maxi Urruti played a cross to Clément Bayiha, defender Auro Jr. blocked the cross … doing his best impression of Diego Maradona’s Hand of God. Neither the ref or the linesman saw the blatant penalty, and within moments, Tsubusa Endoh scored, leaving the times tied at 1-1 cumulatively. Shortly before full time, Chris Mavinga would be sent off for fouling Lassi Lappalainen as he was through on goal.
Regulation time ended thusly, and it was straight to a penalty shootout. It has been some time since the Impact found themselves in such a situation, and TFC had struggled in several of their own penalty shootouts, so it was impossible to predict the outcome.
Fate smiled down on one team. TFC’s second shooter, Altidore, struck the crossbar, Diop saved Patrick Mullins’ rushed effort, and Jonathan Osorio hit the post, as Bojan, Daniel Lovitz and Rudy Camacho scored each of their penalties, leading the Montréal Impact to a 3-1 shootout victory and their first Canadian Championship since 2014.
How exciting is this moment if you’re associated with the Bleu-Blanc-Noir? The team celebrated long into the night, crashing coach Wilmer Cabrera’s press conference with champagne showers. The 250+ fans who traveled to Toronto shared in celebrations in the stadium, at the team bus, and undoubtedly on the journey home. In my case, I had to take a personal day off of work to soak in the joy and welcome the team back to the airport.
It’s a beautiful trophy, and it’s the first Montréal has won since I began following the team. It brings the promise of Champions’ League soccer in 2020 even if 2019 ends up being a season to forget. Most of all, it’s tangible proof that even if the Impact are down, never count them out.
Featured image: @impactmontreal
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