Home Global Game CONCACAF You can’t make this stuff up: Smits could start biggest game in Impact history

You can’t make this stuff up: Smits could start biggest game in Impact history


It would be hard to search more than a century of Canadian soccer history to find a situation more steeped in irony than what the Impact and John Smits face heading into the decisive match of the CONCACAF Champions League.

Last year, Smits was in goal for FC Edmonton when Patrice Bernier struck the 96th-minute second-leg penalty to give the Impact a win over the NASL side in the semifinals of the Canadian Championship. Smits and his Eddies were seconds — seconds — away from ending Montreal’s attempt to go to CONCACAF Champions League over a year ago. Seconds away from ensuring there would have been no Cinderella wins over sides in Mexico, Costa Rica and the United States

(Let’s remind Montreal fans of the six minutes of added time at home if any want to complain about any of the hometown calls that went Club America’s way in the first leg of Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League final, a 1-1 draw which was a fantastic result for the MLS side. But, after getting six minutes of added time at home against a lower-division club in an earlier step in this journey, Montreal fans forfeit the right to complain about any kind of hometown officiating).

As time went on, the bitterness gave way to a sense of cooperation; Smits was loaned out to the Impact for the second leg of the semifinal — and, even though the Eddies have Canadian Championship games on the same nights as the two legs of the CCL final, they agreed to loan Smits to the Impact for the games against Club America.

Now, with news that Evan Bush got a late yellow card — which, if not rescinded, would rule him out of the second leg — Smits could end up between the sticks for the Impact at the Big O, for the biggest game in club history.

Sometimes, dammit, don’t you just love this game? How it could turn enemies into strange bedfellows? How Smits’s agony of defeat against the Impact a little more than a year ago could end up having the chance to be part of the greatest victory thrill in Canadian club soccer history?

Smits won the Golden Glove for having the best goals-against-average in NASL through the 2014 season. But he hasn’t started for the Eddies this year, as the big-legged Matt Van Oekel has earned the No. 1 shirt.

Montreal will appeal Bush’s yellow card. The pragmatist will hope that CONCACAF allows him to play. But the romantic, the guy that pulls for the underdog, will think about how truly awesome it would be to see Smits play. You can’t make this stuff up.

Before he left, John told us on the Eddies beat that, despite what his friends and family might say, he’s been able to put the bitterness of last year’s loss away.

“I’m very excited to be part of Montreal making history,” he said.

I’ve known John since he first came to the Eddies in 2012 as the fourth keeper no one expected to play one minute of pro soccer. After all, he came from the University of Toronto; who comes from the CIS goalkeeping pool and plays pro? In May of that year, he won his first NASL start — and got a clean sheet — in a win over Atlanta. That night, I spoke to him and he was very emotional, talking about all the Canadian university players who never get the chance to move up; and how he felt he was proving a point for the CIS as a whole. (CLICK HERE TO SEE THAT STORY FROM THE ARCHIVE).

By 2014, the kid from Mississauga — we’d often joke about the state of some of the fields in the Region of Peel — had risen to the ranks of the top keepers in NASL. Yet, he still didn’t get called to the national side, continuing what has been a lifetime of being passed over by Canadian national programs.?? I’ve got to know John well over the years; we often speak of the struggles of Canadians trying to make it in the pros. And I can assure you about how hard he is on himself. Even after a win he’ll talk about how SOMETHING has to be better; his distribution, his kicking, his positioning. He’s so hard on himself.

I will be prepping to call the second leg of FC Edmonton Canadian Championship tie against the Ottawa Fury next Wednesday. It will be very hard for me to focus if Smits is playing in goal for the Impact against Club America, as we await kickoff for the Eddies game in the mountain time zone.

And, if Smits plays, I might have a hard time keeping my eyes dry. And, look, basically the only time I’ve cried in public is when Spock died in The Wrath of Khan. And I was a kid.

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  1. Mario Bourgeois

    April 23, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    I really enjoyed your article, your editorial that’s a different story. You are only telling the readers about the last minutes of the game. You are forgetting to mention that there was a very questionable pk given to Edmonton (Jonke) earlier for the Karl W Ouimette “push” . As we see too often in soccer, the ref probably felt he owed the Impact for the pk call and even things out for both teams. The important thing is that if Smits gets the start, he will be ready.

    • Steven Sandor

      April 23, 2015 at 6:39 pm

      I never questioned the call (in this article). The question was the six minutes of added time. The penalty came in the sixth minute. If you recall the reaction from that game, FCE felt far more aggrieved about why six minutes were added.

      If we did want to go into the Ouimette call, remember that late in the first leg, the Eddies had what they felt was a legitimate penalty claim denied late in the match (would have put the Eddies up 3-1 after leg one, assuming a PK conversion). That call wasn’t given. We can go down a tunnel when it comes to the penalty claims. But it’s the six minutes that, over time, has surpassed the question of Fischer’s penalty award.

      • Mario Bourgeois

        April 23, 2015 at 7:19 pm

        Got it, thanks…of course 6 minutes was a lot. but “Montreal fans forfeit the right to complain about any kind of hometown officiating” is kind of pushing it. I’m sure FCE got hometown calls too in the past…every teams in the world had them! Are you trying to compare the officiating from FCE vs IMFC to last night game against CA? Because non Impact fans are also complaining about the officiating on mlssoccer.com, I think Impact fans can complain about it.

  2. Kent

    April 23, 2015 at 7:21 am

    It really would be an amazing story if Smits played, in particular if they win. Right now I’m still hoping Bush can play somehow, it would be tragic for him if he can’t play, but it would be pretty awesome to have Smits play.

  3. cwell

    April 23, 2015 at 6:37 am

    Not to mention that it would be nice to see at least one Canadian start.

  4. footy

    April 23, 2015 at 1:04 am

    I do hope he gets the nod, but if Bush isn’t available, Montreal will most likely get a veteran goalkeeper for the start. They have to get a new keeper anyway for the game, so probably they will go for an upgrade. It is only the biggest game in club history.

  5. Stephen Jenkins (@sajenkins10)

    April 22, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    Hope he starts on the 29th, he can be the hero!

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