Impact reach group stage in Champions League

The Montreal Impact played Nicaraguan champion Real Esteli FC to a 0-0 draw Tuesday night, enough to advance to the group stage in the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League.

The Montreal Impact have advanced to the group stage of the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League.

The Impact held Nicaraguan champion Real Esteli FC to a 0-0 draw Tuesday night in the second leg of their preliminary round playoff.

Coupled with last Wednesday's 1-0 triumph in the first leg at Montreal's Saputo Stadium, the scoreless tie was enough for the Impact to advance on aggregate.

"Even if it was not our best performance, we're glad to move to the next round," Impact coach John Limniatis said. "We did very well defensively."

"It was probably the most important series our club has ever played," Impact president Joey Saputo said.

Tuesday's second leg was played at Carlos Miranda Stadium in Comayagua, Honduras, because Nicaragua doesn't have a venue that meets the requirements of FIFA, soccer's world governing body.

Real Esteli midfielder Elmer Mejia nearly opened the scoring in the first half, blasting a 20-footer off the crossbar.

Montreal had a solid scoring chance in the 71st minute, but Leonardo Di Lorenzo's free kick deflected off a defender and the right post.

Juan Paulo Chacon was ejected in the 86th minute, prompting Real Esteli to complete the match with 10 players.  

"They maybe had one real scoring chance," Limniatis said. "We're progressing in the tournament, so it is very good."

Montreal, one of eight teams to survive the preliminary round, is in Group C with Atlante FC of Mexico, Club Deportivo Olimpia of Honduras and Joe Public of Trinidad and Tobago.

The preliminary round winners and eight automatic entrants comprise the 16-team main draw, with the Impact hosting Joe Public in their opening match on Sept. 16.

The championship round, featuring the two top teams from each of the four groups, commences next Feb. 24.

The Impact won the right to represent Canada in Champions League with impressive showings in a national tournament with Toronto FC of Major League Soccer and United Soccer Leagues rival Vancouver Whitecaps.

"It shows how competitive the USL clubs can be," Saputo said. "We're very close from a technical standpoint, but from a standpoint of perception, we're miles apart."

With files from the Canadian Press