Club America have legitimate claims to being the biggest club in the CONCACAF zone. The Mexico City giants are heavy favourites in the first leg of the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League final, when first-time finalists Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer pay a visit to the notorious Estadio Azteca.
Club America-Montreal Impact, Wednesday 22 April, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City (first leg)
Fans of Club America boast loudly about being the top club in Mexico and beyond. The Aguilas recently won their 12th league title, one more than archrivals Chivas Guadalajara. And if they win the Champions League title on offer this time around, it will be their sixth, bringing them level with Cruz Azul at the continental peak. America, approaching their 100th year as a club, are led by veteran El Tri striker and Champions League top scorer Oribe Peralta. They reached the semi-finals after humiliating Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa 5-0 over two legs. They then came back dramatically from a 3-0 first-leg deficit in the semis to trounce Club Sport Herediano, also of Costa Rica, 6-0 at the Azteca.
Montreal Impact have only been in MLS since 2012, but they’ve already made their mark on the CONCACAF Champions League. Back in 2009, before joining MLS, they became the first Canadian team to reach the quarter-finals. The Impact sit rock bottom of MLS' Eastern Conference, still in the early stages of its current season. Their focus is clearly on regional accolades at present, and the FIFA Club World Cup berth that goes to the winner of the Champions League. “These games are happening now, so we need to focus on them,” said Patrice Bernier, who stands out in the team alongside London-born Nigel Reo-Coker formerly of West Ham and Aston Villa. “The Champions League is our priority at the moment,” added Bernier who captains an Impact side that already beat Mexican opposition, in the form of Pachuca, during the quarter-finals.
The duel to watch
Rubens Sambueza v. Patrice Bernier
The wheels begin to turn for Club America when Rubens Sambueza gets on the ball. The playmaker is well known in the Mexican top flight for his slide-rule passes and keen vision. The job of putting a lid on America’s creator-in-chief will fall to Montreal’s Quebec-born Patrice Bernier, who grew up playing ice hockey and isn’t shy about upping the tempo physically. “Hockey taught me to be aware and alert all the time,” the 35-year-old Canadian international and veteran of football in Germany, Norway and Denmark told FIFA.com.
Did you know?
Club America have never lost a CONCACAF Champions League final. All five times they reached the ultimate stage – 1977, 1987, 1990, 1992, 2006 - they came out winners.
104,000 – The current capacity of Estadio Azteca, one of the world’s most famous football grounds. The stadium, first opened in 1966, has hosted two FIFA World Cup Finals™ and is the spiritual home of Mexico’s national team. At over 7000 feet of altitude, Azteca is regarded as one of the most difficult away venues in the world. Montreal will spend a full week in the area hoping to adjust to the thin air.
What they said…
“Everyone knows the history of Azteca. Two World Cup finals hosted and Pele and Maradona played there in their primes. To play any final is amazing, but to play one in front of over 100,000 fans with a place in a [Club] World Cup on the line is beyond words.” Nigel Reo-Coker of Montreal Impact speaking to FIFA.com.
“It was a massive achievement. My best-ever night in football.” Club America’s Argentinian striker Dario Benedetto after scoring four goals in the semi-final second leg.
The return leg of the 2014/15 CONCACAF Champions League final will take place in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on 29 April.