Take 2-0 series lead
BY IAN WALKER
So here's the thing. It could have well been the Vancouver Whitecaps playing in front of 55,000 people at BC Place Stadium in a CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final game on Wednesday.
Instead, it was the Montreal Impact playing Club Santos Laguna of the Mexican premier division at Olympic Stadium. Montreal leads the aggregate-goals series 2-0, with the second leg on March 5 in Torreon, Mexico. The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League advances to the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, Dec. 10-20. England's Manchester United is defending champion.
Montreal earned the right to represent Canada in Champions League play by winning last year's Nutrilite Canadian Championship.
If you haven't heard of the three-team, six-match tournament between the Whitecaps, Impact and Toronto FC before, it shouldn't be ignored any longer.
"We've opened a lot of eyes -- no one expected this," said Impact general manager Nick de Santis, whose team got a pair of goals from former Whitecap Eddie Sebrango to take the commanding lead. "Our country is made up of a lot of cultures and they're very savvy soccer people. People want to see a different level of soccer and different flavour and this is the opportunity winning the Nutrilite Championships presents."
The Whitecaps defeated the Impact to advance to the United Soccer Leagues First Division championships, where they beat Puerto Rico 2-1 to win the team's second league title in three years. Puerto Rico is in the other quarter-final, tying Mexico's Atlante 1-1 in the first game of their Tuesday matchup.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi was among the masses to witness Montreal's upset victory, played in front of the second largest crowd to see a professional soccer game in the city since Sept. 2, 1981, when 58,542 watched the Montreal Manic defeat the Chicago Sting 2-1 in the quarter-finals of the now-defunct NSL. He said he had no problem cheering for his team's USL-1 rival.
"The greater success they have the greater visibility we all have," said Lenarduzzi,
Vancouver will open this year's Nutrilite tournament on the road against Major League Soccer's Toronto on May 6. Vancouver plays in Montreal on May 20 before hosting the Impact on May 27 and Toronto June 2 at Swangard Stadium.
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