The Montreal Impact, fresh off their miracle, last minute win against Pachuca, learned who their next opponent in the CONCACAF Champions League will be.
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Alajuelense, from Costa Rica, will be in Montreal on March 18 at the Olympic Stadium for the first game of a two-leg playoff series. The second match will be held in Costa Rica on April 9.
L.D. Alajuelense is based in the city of Alajuela, in the north-west region of the country. The city of 123,000 people is just 19 kilometres away form the capitol city of San Jose.
The club won the 2014-15 regular season of the Costa Rican Primera Division, with a record of 17 wins, two draws and three losses. They ended up six points clear of the second place team.
Mar 4, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Alajuelense midfielder Johan Venegas (27) celebrates with fans in the stands after Alajuelense
Alajuelense qualified for the Champions League competition by winning the 2013 Invierno, the Primera Division’s equivalent to the MLS Cup. The 95-year-old club didn’t fare as well in the Invierno this year, being upset in the first round.
In the Champions League, they were drawn into Group 6, with Chorrillo of Panama and the heavily favoured Mexican giants Cruz Azul. Alajuelense only won one game in the group stage, but drew three, including two huge games against Cruz Azul.
With six points in total, they were ranked last for the quarterfinals and were put up against the 1st place team, D.C. United. They beat the only other MLS squad in the knockout round 5-2 in Costa Rica and then lost 2-1 at R.F.K Stadium, advancing on away goals.
Although they have only won two out of a possible six games, Alajuelense are absolutely not to be taken lightly. Amoung the trophies to their name, 29 Primera Division titles (and you thought 24 cups was impressive huh?) and two Champions League crowns – the most recent being in 2004 – in five appearances in the tourney’s final.
The head coach is Costa Rican footballing legend, Oscar Ramirez, also know as El Machillo (The Blonde). El Machillo played more than 300 matches as a midfielder for Alajuelense.
Some of Ramirez’s top players include national team goalkeeper and captain Patrick Pemberton. The strike force is led by Johan Venegas and Armando Alonso, the latter of whom is leading the team in Champions League scoring with three goals.
I doubt anyone needs to be reminded on how the Impact got to the semi-finals, but regardless. They won the Canadian Championship, advanced out of a group that had New York Red Bulls and C.D. FAS (El Salvador). In the quarterfinals, they advanced on away goals versus Pachuca.
As I said in my preview of Pachuca, it will be fun to see how the team, used to tropical temperatures, reacts to the cold weather in Montreal. However, the game will be played indoors at the Olympic Stadium and the weather didn’t seem to bother them too much against D.C. United.
This will be an interesting match-up. One has to think the Impact will be favored because of their homogeneous roster when it comes to nationalities. Alajuelense is made up almost entirely of Costa Rican natives and those who aren’t from Costa Rica are from nearby Central American nations.
Then again. Costa Rica was expected to go nowhere in the 2014 World Cup, but managed to go undefeated in a group that contained world soccer superpowers England, Italy and Uruguay.
Don’t look too far down the road Montreal Impact fans. Just ask English and Italian supporters how that turns out.
Here’s how the CONCACAF Champions League bracket looks at this point;
Montreal Impact (4th ranked in quarterfinals, Canada) v. Alajuelense (8th, Costa Rica)
America (2nd, Mexico) v. Herediano (3rd, Costa Rica) or Olimpia (6th, Honduras)