The Montreal Impact's dream run in the CONCACAF Champions League came to a crashing halt on Wednesday. Montreal was beaten 4-2 in the second leg of the final by Mexican side Club America and 5-3 on aggregate. The Impact had a tough test, and they should feel proud of their achievements regardless of the score. ESPNFC's Tom Marshall quotes America head coach Gustavo Matosas:
America, one of the biggest teams in Mexico, possess several quality players. Oribe Peralta, Dario Benedetto, Darwin Quintero, Paul Aguilar and Ventura Alvarado are just a few of the standouts in the squad.
The financial gap is also incredibly wide. America's wage expenditure is approximately 10 times higher than Montreal's, per Doug McIntyre of ESPN FC.
This is exactly why Mexican clubs have won the CONCACAF Champions League every year since the new format began in 2008. The Liga MX teams have better players and can spend a lot more than MLS sides and teams in Central America. Sportswriter Nicolino DiBenedetto had this to say:
Because the Mexican sides don't have the tight restraints of a salary cap or a book full of roster rules, the depth is much stronger than the Impact, and even the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy, who are the big spenders in the United States.
Montreal's lack of depth created many problems; among them was its goalkeeping conundrum. Kristian Nicht, who was playing for the NASL's Indy Eleven, was signed by Montreal on Monday. Regular starter Evan Bush was suspended, backup Eric Kronberg was cap-tied and youngster Maxime Crepeau was hurt and inexperienced.
Nicht looked out of his element, which is understandable. He just arrived a couple of days ago and was unfamiliar with his defense, which was evident by the number of times he stayed on his line and strayed out of position.
Another problem for Montreal was Nigel Reo-Coker, a central midfielder, starting at right-back. Impact head coach Frank Klopas had to make this switch due to Hassoun Camara and Victor Cabrera being unavailable due to injury, per Sportsnet's John Molinaro:
Eventually fatigue caught up with Reo-Coker and his teammates. He was out of position when the Impact conceded the first goal and was at fault for the second as well.
While the Impact had to rely on Nicht and Reo-Coker in the second leg, America also had to deal with some key absentees in the first match, but had significantly stronger options.
U.S. international defender Ventura Alvarado was hurt, as was fellow center-back Paolo Goltz and Peralta. The latter came in as a substitute and scored America's only goal in the 1-1 draw.
Nonetheless, Matosas had like-for-like replacements for every one of those players, while Klopas had to scramble to complete his lineup.
Even with the clear gap in quality, Montreal had plenty of chances. Ignacio Piatti had a brilliant opportunity in the first half to double the hosts' lead, but he was stopped by America goalkeeper Moises Munoz.
The Argentinean also missed a beautiful chance in the first leg, but opted to chip the ball instead of placing the shot. It ended up wide, and Montreal drew 1-1.
Montreal played an expansive, counterattacking style, and it worked throughout the first half. America defenders had to foul Piatti, Andres Romero, Dilly Duka and Dominic Oduro to slow down the momentum.
However, despite America's shambolic defending, Montreal's was equally poor; its opponents took advantage, whereas the Impact failed to do so.
Credit Montreal, though. The Impact became the first Canadian team to make the final and the second MLS team to do so since Real Salt Lake in 2011.
It was a tremendous, exhilarating run, especially considering the player turnover during the summer and their horrid domestic season in 2014. It's disappointing that it had to end in heartbreak.
Peter Galindo covers MLS and U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @GalindoPW.