Watch enough sports and you will soon feel every cliche and story has played out dozens if not hundreds of times. There can be only so much originality before everything becomes an echo of a story once told. Drama plays out. Heartbreak repeats itself. Unbridled joy sweeps a fan base for fleeting moments of glory.
But once in a great while circumstances align just right to where something truly different makes you experience a sport in a whole new way. The Montreal Impact are on the brink of writing such a story with their improbable CONCACAF Champions League run that continued Wednesday night in stunning fashion.
They are potential pioneers of Major League Soccer glory on an international stage, claiming a prize never enjoyed north of Mexico. But they are no LA Galaxy or Seattle Sounders. They are not even their neighbors in Toronto FC or Vancouver Whitecaps. No, the Montreal Impact are a group of rejects and journeymen that just might take what the LAs and Seattles of the world have never gotten - the first CONCACAF Championship for MLS.
A long journey ahead still remains, and Montreal's story could still end in cliche heartbreak. Rocky getting knocked out by Apollo Creed. But a magic has surrounded Montreal's run to this point and it looked as strong as ever Wednesday.
After getting by Liga MX powerhouse Pachuca on the last-minute strike of a third-round draft pick from Princeton, Montreal loudly exclaimed its presence in the semi-finals of the tournament with a 2-0 victory of Costa Rica's Alajuelense on Wednesday.
Once again it was Cameron Porter, the unlikely hero against Pachuca, who turned heads with his composure and skill. Whether it was clever ball to work out of tight spaces, back flicks to set up a goal or dangerous strikes toward goal, Porter looked the part of a superstar. He was again an embodiment of the Impact as a whole - a man passed on by everyone determined to succeed in a competition where no one believed he or his team belonged.
It took only 10 minutes for Porter and company to strike first. Journeyman Dominic Oduro, playing as composed and controlled as ever, danced into the right side of the box before passing to Porter who lightly back passed the ball toward Designated Player Ignacio Piatti. Piatti calmly controlled the pass and struck a golazo that would have disintegrated the cross bar had the powerful strike been an inch higher.
While the goal was his highlight, Piatti displayed throughout the game that even if he is a forgotten Designated Player among the likes of Kaka, David Villa and Giovinco, he too could bring world-class skill and moments on his best day.
Four minutes later, Montreal magic would strike again. A corner kick that deflected toward the center of the box found an opportunistic Victor Cabrera who skipped it past goalkeeper Dexter Lewis.
Over the next 75 minutes, Montreal would continue to control the game. Sporadically shaky defense was cleaned up each and every time by members of the back four, including former Fire defender Bakery Soumare. Threats were few and far between for Alajuelense.
It was the trio of Oduro-Porter-Piatti that did the most damage. It's a trio no MLS team wanted and it just might be a trio destined to slay every foreign foe on the way to claiming the league's most unattainable prize.
A difficult trip to Costa Rica awaits April 7, but with two goals in hand and an unexplainably magic touch; Montreal might be headed to one last final test where they could finish a truly original and historic feat.
A madhouse in Costa Rica
Where Montreal is armed with magic, Mexico's last team standing seems armed with malice.
A truly ugly contest between perennial power Club America and Herediano took place Tuesday, resulting in another unlikely result of Herediano triumphing over Club America 3-0. The victory came in part because the Liga MX side was playing with 10 men after a studs-up challenge from Michael Arroyo caused a brawl. The challenge led to the ugliest moment of the match as Herediano's Cristian Lagos, who tumbled to ground because of the challenge, was kicked hard in the head by America's Pablo Goltz.
Arroyo ended up being sent off instead of Goltz, but the incident only set the tone for a match that had more than 40 fouls and should have had far more than the three cards issued. The brawl should result in suspensions for the second leg and I would assume sanctions, especially for America.
The three goals scored by Herediano were actually quite nice, but everything in between was chippy and ugly. Esteban Ramirez, Yendrick Ruiz and Jonathan Hansen struck for the team from Heredia, all in the second half.
Herediano has the feel of a southern Montreal Impact, as the team has never reached a CONCACAF Champions League final. To make it to the final over a Mexican power would be a true accomplishment as evidenced by the passion and emotion displayed by the Costa Rican crowd throughout the match.
But while the deficit is large, I believe Club America will still be waiting for Montreal in the final should the Impact make it that far. Club America will not need a Miracle in Mexico like Arsenal needed a Miracle in Monaco during Europe's champions league. No, an 11-man Club America is good enough to put four on the board at home or at least three and a winner in extra time.
The second game could get even uglier though as Herediano will try to park every bus in Mexico and agitate and flop as much as possible to break up any flow or momentum. I'd expect America keeps more composure with the home crowd support and displays the skill that makes them the tournament favorite.
Either way, there will be no all-Mexico final. There promises to be truly great moments in the tournament's final stages.
Montreal takes a 2-0 lead on the road to Alajuelense on Tuesday, April 7, with kickoff slated for shortly after 9 p.m. CDT. Herediano travels to Mexico City with three goals in hand to face Club America the following evening. The two-legged final will begin roughly two weeks thereafter.
Go, Frankie, go.