By Sandy Beeson – Twitter: @Sandy_Beeson
For Montreal Impact, facing Mexican giants Club América in the CONCACAF Champions League final would seem a stern enough challenge on its own, but when you factor in both a record attendance and a substantial increase in altitude, Wednesday’s first leg becomes even more daunting for the history-making Canadian side.
Reports from Mexico suggest that the iconic Estadio Azteca has already sold out with a 105,000 capacity crowd expected. That figure would eclipse any equivalent attendance from UEFA’s showpiece event since Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in 1960 in front of 127,621 at Glasgow’s Hampden Park.
Fortunately for the Impact, the second leg will be hosted at Montreal’s Stade Olympique where there will also be a capacity crowd, albeit a decidedly more modest audience of 58,000.
Prior to this season, Montreal had held the CONCACAF Champions League attendance record since 2009, until the 55,571 that saw Impact beat Santos Laguna 2-0 was eclipsed by Wednesday’s opponents earlier this month. Club América welcomed 66,208 to the Azteca to witness an emphatic 6-0 semi-final win over Costa Rica’s Herediano to book their place in the final.
Montreal also saw off Costa Rican opposition in the semis, defeating Alajuelense on away goals to become the first ever Canadian side to advance to the final of either the Champions League or its predecessor the Champions Cup. Victory would not only make them the first Canadian champions but also the first MLS champions since the Champions League era began in 2008.
Standing between them and victory is Club América, this season’s top scorers with a formidable 30 goals from the eight games they’ve played. Forwards Darío Benedetto, Martín Zúñiga and Mexican international Oribe Peralta have combined for 14 goals between them, one more than the Impact’s entire total in this year’s competition.
Not only will Montreal Impact be coming up against this season’s outstanding performers in one of the most formidable arenas in world football, they will do so at an altitude of 2,200 metres. Preparation is key in such circumstances and Montreal have given themselves as much time to acclimatise in Mexico City as possible, having arrived last Wednesday, thanks to a bye week in MLS.
A similar arrangement paid dividends at the quarter-final stage as a Dilly Duka double secured a vital 2-2 in the first leg against Pachuca, following a fortnight acclimatising at 2,400 metres, with Montreal eventually progressing on away goals.
The Impact would hope for a similar outcome from Wednesday’s game and will need to put in a disciplined defensive display if they are to achieve it. They’ve got the personnel to keep themselves in contention but they will need the likes of former Belgian international Laurent Ciman, experienced centre-back Hassoun Camara and the tenacious Nigel Reo-Coker to perform heroically if they are to still be in the tie by next week’s second leg in Canada.