After Montreal Impact starting keeper Evan Bush had finished his warm-ups, it was John Smits’ turn to go into the goal. And, right off the bat, he knew he had to keep one eye on the shooters, and the other on the lookout for any projectiles that would be launched at him by Alajuelense supporters.
It was only the Montreal Impact’s pre-game warm-up ahead of Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal second leg, and the tension in Costa Rica was already thick. Smits, on loan to the Impact from FC Edmonton for the match, was in for an experience he’d never forget.
“After Evan had finished warming up, it was time for me to go in and face the shooters,” recalled Smits, who was back in Edmonton on Thursday. “And, any time the ball went over the goal, the fans on that side weren’t trying to just toss the ball back; they were trying to hit me. They were throwing it as hard as they could. They were throwing objects at me.”
During the game, Bush got hit in the head with a coin. Later in the match, with the Impact looking to eliminate Alajuelense from the competition, shoes were tossed onto the pitch. The Impact were able to “lose” by just a 4-2 count; combined with a 2-0 home win in the first leg, the MLS side got through on road goals.
For Smits, who won the NASL Golden Glove for having the best goals-against average in the league in 2014, the emergency call-up opened his eyes to a entirely different sort of soccer culture. He didn’t get a chance to play in the game, but soaked in every second of the experience.
“It’s sort of a kiss of death,” he said. “Now, I crave that atmosphere, that passion for the game. To hear all the boos, they want you to fail, and you want to prove them wrong.”
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