After the first legs, both Canadian participants in the CONCACAF Champions League had it all to do against their Mexican counterparts. For Montreal, they had the advantage of playing at home at their 60,000 capacity Olympic Stadium against Santos, and after an unlucky defeat in Mexico, they would’ve fancied their chances on the night. Meanwhile, Forge travelled to Mexico City to try and overcome a 1-0 home defeat against Cruz Azul, which was a daunting task at the iconic Estadio Azteca.
CF Montreal 3 – Santos 0 (Montreal win 3-1 on aggregate)
Montreal put in a relentless and dominating performance to ease past Santos on the night and qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals. In their first game in two years at Olympic Stadium, the Quebecers signalled their intent immediately. Seven minutes in, Đorđe Mihailović‘s corner was met by captain Victor Wanyama, and the Kenyan’s header went just wide of the goal. Wanyama has soon involved again, the combative midfielder held of a Santos challenge in the middle of the park and lobbed the ball forward into the path of Choinière out on the wing.
The young Canadian put a ball into the box that was met by Romell Quioto, who reacted quickly to take the ball past Carlos Acevedo in the Santos goal and make it 1-0 Montreal on the night after nine minutes and 1-1 in the tie on aggregate. No longer trailing, Montreal didn’t take their foot off the gas and continued to push forward. After twenty-one minutes, intricate play from Lassi Lappalainen, Kamal Miller, and Quioto combined to set up Mihailović who burst into the box before firing a rocket of a shot into the top corner, doubling the Canadians lead and making it 2-1 on aggregate and sending the home crowd wild.
Santos would have some flashes on goal, a corner on the thirty-sixth minute was met by a Santos player but was comfortably saved by Sebastian Breza in the Montreal goal. The visitor’s next chance would come three minutes before halftime. Joel Waterman’s attempted clearance was scuffed into the air, giving the onrushing Fernando Gorriarán the opportunity to volley the ball just outside the box, forcing a strong save from Breza. But Montreal gave Santos a warning shot just before halftime, again from a Mihailović corner. This time the ball was only half-cleared from danger, falling perfectly to Choinière whose half volley just outside the box smashed against the crossbar. Confident and on top, Montreal went into the half 2-0 up in the second leg.
Once again, the home side started strongly. Four minutes into the half, Mihailović went on a powerful run before playing a through ball into the path of Quioto. The Honduran striker’s shot was well saved by Acevedo, but the rebound went straight to Mihailović, who would’ve scored if it wasn’t for defender Ismael Govea being in the right place at the right time to clear the goal-bound effort. They came close again on fifty-two minutes, a brilliant one-two between Ismaël Koné and Joaquin Torres left Koné through on goal with just the keeper to beat, and once again Acevedo kept the Mexicans in the tie with a good save.
Three minutes later, Acevedo was needed to save a Kamal Miller header, it appeared as if it was only a matter of time before Montreal scored again. They wouldn’t have to wait long for a third. After some brilliant footwork from Torres, the Argentine played the ball to Mihailović in the Santos box, and Montreal’s star man on the night picked out a perfect pass to across the box to Koné, who made no mistake twelve yards out making it 3-0 Montreal and more or less putting the tie out of sight for Santos.
At this point, the game was effectively won as Montreal played out the remaining half an hour with ease and won their last sixteen tie 3-1 on aggregate. They’ll await the result between Cruz Azul and Forge to see who they’ll face in the quarterfinal.
Cruz Azul 3 – Forge FC 1 (Cruz Azul win 4-1 on aggregate)
Playing on one of world soccer’s biggest stages, Forge stepped out to face Cruz Azul at the Estadio Azteca in what was a landmark moment for the Canadian Premier League. As the match began, Forge knew they had a tough task on their hand, and after just four minutes it got even tougher. Deep in Forge territory, Cruz scorer from the first leg Rómulo Otero whipped a dangerous freekick across the goal and Paraguayan winger Ángel Romero got his foot on the cross to guide it into the top corner, doubling the Mexican sides lead in the tie.
Forge struggled with long balls in the first leg, and Cruz almost exploited this weakness again on the seventeenth minute. Luis Ángel Mendoza lobbed a ball upfield from the middle of the park, and Romero was able to bring the ball down deep into Forge territory without a Forge player to challenge him. From there he was able to tee up a shot for defender Juan Escobar just inside the box, and his shot went just wide. Cruz was relentless in their efforts to put the tie beyond any doubt, they worked the ball upfield around the twenty-minute mark, leading to Otero receiving the ball just outside the box before setting up Rafael Baca whose thunderous effort from twenty-five yards out was too powerful for Forge keeper Triston Henry, making the tie 3-0 to Cruz.
Despite the scoreline, Forge persisted. Just six minutes later, Forge worked the ball up their right-wing and despite Tristan Borges cross appearing to be overhit, the ball made its way to David Choinière, and the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu native did great to work into some shooting space on the edge of the box before firing a shot passed Sebastián Jurado. With that goal, Choinière had made history, becoming the first CPL player to score in the Champions League, making the aggregate scoreline 3-1.
With forty-two minutes on the clock, it looked as if Forge would get into halftime just 2-1 down. Unfortunately, they couldn’t properly clear a corner just a minute later, Mendoza picked up the ball from the second phase and flighted the ball back into the box. Forge defenders were slow to react and Juan Escobar found himself with plenty of space and made no mistake, heading in the ball from close range to make it 3-1 on the night, and 4-1 in the tie. Going into halftime, Forge looked like they were on borrowed time in the Champions League.
Cruz looked to keep up the pressure in the second half. In the forty-ninth minute, full back Adrián Aldrete received the ball well advanced up the field, and his cross caused chaos. Firstly the ball landed at the feet of Romero, whose shot was blocked just in front of the goal by Ashtone Morgan. In the ensuing aftermath, the ball ricocheted out to Baca, and now it was Garven Metusala‘s turn to block a shot on target. It wouldn’t be until Romero blasted a shot well over the bar that the danger was over for Forge.
Forge did have chances, with twenty minutes to go, Morgan’s deep cross into the box wasn’t properly dealt with by Cruz, allowing Emery Welshman to run onto the ball, but his powerful shot went just wide from close range. With ten minutes left, Cruz once again exposed Forge’s susceptibility to the long ball, a Cruz long ball was flicked on into the path of an on running Forge attacker, the ball was then squared across the six-yard box into the path of Escobar, but Henry was up to the task denying him from close range.
Escobar came even closer a minute later, Iván Morales ran through on goal but his shot hit the post, the ensuing rebound came to Escobar who despite having a large amount of the goal to aim for at close range, could only direct the ball off the foot of Forge midfielder Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson and the chance was gone. The game would ultimately end in a convincing 3-1 win (4-1 on aggregate) for Cruz Azul, setting up a quarterfinal tie against CF Montreal. While it may have been a step too far, playing at this level is a big statement for Forge, representing the fast growth of the CPL. Next up for the Hamilton outfit is domestic league matches starting on April 10th.