Of the five MLS teams opening on the road in the Concacaf Champions League, the Montreal Impact was the most in danger of being blown out.
Under new head coach Thierry Henry, the
Impact was coming off a terrible preseason, where it finished with four straight losses.
Ignacio Piatti, Montreal's best player ever, returned to Argentina, and two of its best
attacking threats, Algerian Saphir Taider and Finn Lassi Lappalainen, were unavailable because of injuries.
Worse, the Impact was opening against Costa Rica's Saprissa at
the infamous Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, the Cueva del Monstruo ("Monster's Cave"), where MLS teams had won only once in six meetings in the Concacaf Champions League. The U.S. national team record at
the Cueva del Monstruo is even worse: one tie and seven defeats in eight World Cup qualifiers.
So what did the Impact do?
It jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 22 minutes on
stunning goals by Orji Okwonkwo and Romell Quioto and held on to the lead until the 90th minute when Ariel Rodriguez's goal made the final score 2-2.
Going back to Montreal's Stade Olympique for the second leg next week with a tie instead
of a win took nothing away from how Henry felt about his players.
"I'm more than satisfied with the result," he said afterwards. "It's not a bad result and it was a good fight.
Unfortunately, we lost players at the beginning of the game and we had to adjust. They also adjusted to us in the second half."
Defender Rudy Camacho and Okwonkwo were injured in
the first half, and Quioto came off in the 71st minute. Saprissa's two goals followed in the last 10 minutes, first by former Impact player Johan Venegas and the second by Rodriguez.
"With the quality they have in midfield, the way they were putting the ball inside and the way they were passing the ball in the second half," added Henry, "they were making us run and it became
difficult. We played the first half very well and they played a very good second half."
Henry admitted nothing was decided even with the consolation of two away goals.
are things we need to work on," he said, "but at the end of the day, when you see your team fighting like this until the end, you can only be proud."