April 21 (Reuters) - Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact are seeking to end Mexico’s stranglehold on the CONCACAF Champions League when they take on Club America in the first leg of the tournament’s final on Wednesday.
Victory over the current Mexican champions and five-times CONCACAF champions would make Montreal the first Canadian team to win the competition and the first team from MLS to raise the trophy since the current format was introduced in 2008.
A crowd of about 100,000 is expected at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City and the home side start as clear favourites.
But in defeating Mexicans Pachuca in the quarter-finals and surviving a hostile atmosphere on the road in Costa Rica against Alajuelense in the semi-final, Montreal have shown they can handle pressure.
“We know the crowd will be amazing and the atmosphere will be epic,” said Montreal’s Ghanian midfielder Dominic Oduro.
“But you just have to have fun with it. It is a once in a lifetime thing and we know we have a good team. We can’t be afraid of them.”
The L.A. Galaxy (2000) and D.C United (1998) are the only MLS teams have ever become CONCACAF champions, and that was back when the tournament was the knockout CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Since the switch to the Champions League structure only one MLS team has reached the final with Real Salt Lake losing to Mexico’s Monterrey in 2011.
Every other final has been an all-Mexican affair with Cruz Azul beating Toluca in last year’s final, marking the ninth consecutive success for a Mexican club.
America possess a dangerous strike pairing of Mexican international Oribe Peralta and Argentine Dario Benedetto, who scored four times in the 6-0 crushing of Costa Rica’s Herediano in the semi-final second leg.
Montreal have a little Argentine flair of their own in midfielder Ignacio Piatti, part of the San Lorenzo team who won the Copa Libertadores last year.
America have been inconsistent of late and on Saturday suffered a 4-0 home defeat in Liga MX by Ronaldinho’s Queretaro.
“Defeats are always painful but this came at a good time,” said coach Gustavo Matosas. “We can avenge this loss on Wednesday but we must lift ourselves quickly to get ready for an important final,” he added.
The return leg will be played in Montreal on April 29. (Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)