Since the early history of the National Hockey League (NHL), and of professional hockey, the Montreal Canadiens have dominated the city's headlines, been front-page news for decades, and dominated the league winning 24 Stanley Cups between 1915 and 1993. On April 29th 2015, the Montreal Impact lost the second match of the CONCACAF Champions' League Final, 4 to 2, against one of North America's richest, most followed, and dominanting clubs Mexico's Club America. Yes, at the end of the day they lost, but at the same time the acheived the milestone of gaining access to their first major final. This has also contributed to the ever-rising popularity of football (or soccer if you wish) in Montreal, the province of Quebec, and because it was a nationality televised event, Canada.
So what is the CONCACAF Champions' League?
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CONCACAF is the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football. It organizes and administrates various clubs, national level tournaments and events, and promotes soccer accross the continent. The CONCACAF Champions League is a club-level tournament for the best qualified teams of various countries. The qualification process differs by country and there are two ways to qualify: Win the the qualification tournament set-up by the national association (which the Impact won last year) or win the national league that your team plays in. The number of teams per country also differs by size and previous results of the teams from that league. Twenty-four teams take part in this league. Beucase the US and Mexico have a larger number of teams they can enter four teams each and Canada can enter one. Central America can enter twelve and the Carrabean league can enter three.
How did the Impact get there?
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To get to the Champions League (CL) the Impact participated in the 2014 Canadian Championship which included Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver. The Impact lost its first match in the 4-team knockout tournament against Edmonton, a 2 - 1 defeat, but won the return match in Montreal 4 - 2, winning the 2-match series 5 - 4 on goals total. In the finals, they faced off with Montreal's general rival Toronto FC. The first match in Toronto ended 1 - 1 and a last-minute goal by the Impact in the 2nd match home game gave them a 1 - 0 win and 2 - 1 total series win. This gave them access to the Champions League.
The CL's format has changed over the years. During the 2014 - 2015 league, the 24 teams will be split up into 8 groups of 3 teams who'll play each other twice, at home and away. Each group winner will go into the quarter finals, then the semi finals, and the finals. Montreal was placed into group 3 with CD FAS of El Salvador and the New York Red Bulls. They won their first two matches against CD FAS 1 - 0 in Montreal and 3 - 2 in San Salvador. They also beat the Red Bulls 1 - 0 in Montreal and tied 1 - 1 in New York. Finishing first in their group, the earned qualification to the quarter finals against the Mexican team Pachuca. They played the first match in Pachuca, ending it in a 2 - 2 draw. The return match in Montreal ended 1 - 1 with the Impact scoring in the 90th minute of the game to steal the match and win the series; it ended 3 - 3 on goal totals but because Montreal scored two away goals (which is used for a tie breaker) they were declared the winners. In the semi-finals they were drawn against Costa Rican side Alajulense. The first match ended in a 2 - 0 win for Montreal and the return match, in a hostile Costa Rican stadium, ended in a 4 - 2 loss for the Impact. Just like the quarter-finals, the Impact won the series on a 4 - 4 tie, with two away goals scored in the loss. This meant they had achieved the feat of making it to the finals.
Why is it so important for Montreal and to Montrealers?
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As we now know, the Impact were honorable loosers in the finals, but this isn't the be all end all for our team. We must remember that no one in the world thought the Impact would make it to the finals, or that they could even score a goal against Club America. Since they were little most, if not every, players have dreamed of making it to a club or country final, so getting there meant they acheived a personal goal. Even though they didn't raise the trophy high for us to see they made it to the finals! This is a feat in itself and cannot be forgotten. For a hockey-dominated city like Montreal, the Impact's run in the tournament shows the Canadiens they're not the only championship-worthy team around. The Impact might know all about the Habs history, but this will build their own and for a young team there's nothing more important. Having the tournament broadcast internationally is helping Montreal stay visible on the global sports scene and attract more events, like the FIFA Women's World Cup this summer. As for its impact on Québec many young players have been targeting the Impact's youth teams and soccer schools which is key for the development of players in the province. Moreover the Impact represented Canada, a great honour which carries with it the hope of the nation and, in turn, the image of our country as a whole. In many ways this win has been a huge achievement for the fans of football in Montreal, Quebec, and Canada and the team has benefited both in experience and visibility. They may not have won the finals, but we all know that in the beautiful game of football anything and everything can happen.