MLS' dismal record in the CONCACAF Champions League just got a little bit better in the most thrilling fashion imaginable.
Substitute striker Cameron Porter, Montreal Impact's third-round draft pick out of Princeton, saved the Canadian side from CONCACAF elimination with a stunning goal in stoppage time to dump Liga MX power Pachuca and advance the Impact to the semifinals on Tuesday at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Montreal will await the winner of the D.C. United-Alajuelense series, which Alajuelense currently leads 5-2 on aggregate after the first leg in Costa Rica
Fellow substitute Callum Mallace provided the killer ball for the crucial goal, lofting an exquisite service from long distance right on to the path of Porter's run. The forward used a wonderful chest control to take the ball in stride, held off his defender, and split the legs of goalkeeper Óscar Pérez as 38,000 fans erupted.
The goal secured a 1-1 draw in the second leg of the teams' home-and-home quarterfinal tie. Together with a 2-2 draw last week in Mexico, Montreal Impact wins the series on away goals.
How surprising is this? Very.
The Impact finished last season dead last in Major League Soccer, earning a measly 28 points over a 34-game schedule. Over the offseason, it lost its leading goal scorer Marco Di Vaio to retirement. It qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League because it defeated second-tier FC Edmonton and an also-woeful Toronto FC side to win the 2014 Canadian Championship.
Pachuca, on the other hand, is one of Mexico's traditional powers, having won four CONCACAF titles (third all-time behind Cruz Azul and Club America). It showed resiliency, earning its CONCACAF berth with a run to the Liga MX Liguilla final after finishing sixth in that season's Clausura. It steamrolled its CONCACAF group, scoring 17 goals over four games en route to a quarterfinal berth.
Before Tuesday, MLS clubs had a 2-21 record in home-and-home series against Mexican clubs. As the number rose to three, Montreal fans knew how to react:
It seems appropriate that the source for such unlikely excitement should come from a most unlikely source. Porter, the rookie from Princeton drafted by the Impact in the third round of January's MLS SuperDraft, had only come on as a substitute nine minutes before his equalizer sent the Olympic Stadium into bedlam.
Up to that point, it looked like the Impact were heading out like so many MLS sides before them. Like the first leg, Montreal found itself under consistent pressure, but was able to make occasional dangerous forays into the Pachuca half. However, Montreal struggled to carve out concrete scoring chances, while Pachuca created quality opportunities that went wasted.
In the 40th minute, Pachuca winger Hirving Lozano outfoxed Montreal defender Victor Cabrera and delivered a perfect ball to Germán Cano that went wasted. A similar sequence occurred in the 71st, but goalkeeper Evan Bush came through with an outstanding sliding kick save.
With the Mexican side looking steadily more frustrated as the game went on, it looked like the Impact may have been able to stifle Pachuca. Then, a sloppy tackle from defender Laurent Ciman threatened to unravel all of that in the 80th minute.
Cano buried the resulting penalty, and the Impact spent the final 10+ minutes on the front foot. In the 85th minute, Porter entered. Nine minutes later, he would be a hero.