Impact shut out Santos in CONCACAF Champions League
Eduardo Sebrango scored twice as the Montreal Impact shut out Santos Laguna of Mexico 2-0 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals at Olympic Stadium on Wednesday night.
"They have one foot in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League," CBC Sports broadcaster Nigel Reed said as the final whistle sounded.
With Saputo Stadium blanketed in snow, the hometown Impact moved indoors to Olympic Stadium and attracted 55,571 fans for the much-anticipated quarter-final.
"We needed a boost because it was our first competitive game since October and they gave us a big boost," Impact coach John Limniatis said.
Sebrango, recently re-signed by the Impact, opened the scoring in the fifth minute of the contest, and provided the insurance marker in the 77th.
The boisterous crowd was rewarded early as Roberto Brown slid a short pass between three defenders at the top of the box, where Sebrango buried a left-footer to the right of Santos keeper Oswaldo Sanchez.
On the second goal, Brown advanced the ball off Nevio Pizzolitto's free kick by heading it forward to Sebrango, who shouldered the defender enough to nod the ball by a startled Sanchez.
"The Impact took advantage of our mistakes and we weren't alert enough," Santos coach Daniel Guzman told reporters through a translator.
"But we will learn from this. I have no doubt we will make it up in the return leg."
Sebrango scored 36 goals in 83 matches with Montreal from 2002-05 before signing with United Soccer Leagues rival, the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The flamboyant striker rejoined the Impact on Nov. 10.
"This is the top of my career," Sebrango said. "I did not know I could play in this tournament when I signed with Montreal because I played in Vancouver last year.
"So this is a bonus, to score and play in front of 55,000. Hopefully, we will win [the quarter-final] and it will be ever bigger next time."
'This is a soccer nation'
Saputo Stadium seats 13,000 fans, and Olympic Stadium normally is closed from December to March because of fears that the roof cannot withstand the weight of accumulated snow.
Winter winds tore a hole in the stadium roof on Jan. 18, 1999, but it proved an ideal venue for the biggest soccer match in Montreal since 58,000 soccer fans watched their beloved Manic prevail 3-2 over the Chicago Sting in a North American Soccer League conference semifinal on Sept. 2, 1981.
Chicago won the next two matches on home turf — both by scores of 4-2 — and the best-of-three playoff series 2-1.
"Everyone says this is a hockey nation," Impact midfielder Sandro Grande said. "But this is a soccer nation."
"We would like it to be a soccer nation and we're working hard to get there," Limniatis pointed out. "Hockey has a tremendous history that we don't have yet.
"But we hope to get there one day. Tonight was a great step towards that."
'Nothing is over'
The Impact prepared for more than a month for the match, reassembling Jan. 5 for indoor training camp in Montreal and playing five friendlies with lower-tier teams in Italy.
Santos, a technically proficient team known for its offensive firepower, landed in Montreal on Monday, fresh off a 2-0 Primera League victory over Monterrey.
Santos ranks 12th in Mexico's first division with a 2-2-3 record.
The next match is scheduled to be played March 5 in Torreon, Mexico.
"Nothing is over," Limniatis said. "It is 2-0.
"But we all know the game in Mexico will be extremely tough. They will have a lot of energy."
Impact advanced out of Group C
Montreal and Mexico's Atlante FC advanced out of the opening round of the tournament in Group C.
Both the Impact and Atlante closed out the opening round with 11 points (3-1-2), but the Mexicans secured top spot in the grouping based on the head-to-head.
Atlante is one of the premier sides from Mexico, winning the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the forerunner to Champions League, in 1983, and placing second in 1994.
Montreal posted a pair of impressive shutouts in qualifying for the group stage.
The Impact held Nicaraguan champion Real Esteli FC to a 0-0 draw in the second leg of their preliminary round playoff at Carlos Miranda Stadium in Comayagua, Honduras, last Sept. 2.
That result, coupled with a 1-0 triumph in the home leg at Montreal, was enough for the Impact to qualify for the group stage on aggregate.
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 the Whitecaps.
With files from the Canadian Press