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Duka makes his mark as Impact in drivers seat in CONCACAF Champions League

02/27/2015 04:39 EST | Updated 04/29/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - Dilly Duka hasn't spent much time in the spotlight since the Montreal Impact landed him in a trade with the Chicago Fire last July.

But scoring both his team's goals in a 2-2 tie with Pachuca in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday night should help boost the low-key midfielder's profile.

"It always brings a player's confidence up," Duka said Friday as Montreal held its first practice since a 16-hour flight home from Mexico two days earlier. "But I'll be honest, during the game, scoring two goals didn't mean anything.

"We knew we were going to have to battle every minute to put up a result. What we wanted was to come back here with a chance to go to the next round. Mission accomplished."

Getting a win or even a tie in Mexico has been rare for any Major League Soccer club in Champions League play. It put the Impact in the driver's seat for the second leg Tuesday night at Olympic Stadium.

Now it's Pachuca that faces a long day of travel. And the Mexicans will have to adjust to playing in a domed stadium and on artificial turf, not to mention in a city buried in snow.

The last time the Impact was in the quarter-finals in 2009, it beat Mexico's Santos Laguna 2-0 at the Big O with a weaker team than it has now.

The Impact's performance seems to have awoken the fan base. Team vice-president Richard Legendre said tickets have sold at a pace of about 2,000 per day since the tie, to reach about 25,000 so far. The Montreal club is hoping for a big, noisy crowd.

Those in attendance will likely pay more attention to Duka. The American midfielder of Albanian descent had a quiet three goals in 14 Impact games last season, when the scoring stars were Ignacio Piatti and the now-retired Marco Di Vaio.

Between flying home and getting rest, Duka hasn't had much time to let his two-goal game sink in.

"I'm soaking it in now, but our team knows we have another big game and it's probably more important than the first one," he said. "Maybe I don't get the most media attention, but that game showed we're a team.

"You saw Justin Mapp on the second goal. He beat three guys. I just finished the play. It's a team."

Duka opened the scoring in the 25th minute with a shot that had the Pachuca defence going the wrong way. Then he put in Mapp's feed in the 53rd.

Pachuca rallied with goals 12 minutes apart in the second half, one of them on a close-range free kick, but the Impact defence held the rest of the way.

The Mexicans dominated with 73 per cent possession and 17 corner kicks compared to three for Montreal, which sat back and played for counterattacks.

"We knew going in we weren't going to worry about possession," said defender Bakary Soumare. "They were going to have the ball more than us and we were just going to stay compact.

"Possession doesn't show on the scoreboard."

Pachuca is in midseason, while Montreal played its first competitive game of 2015. After many off-season changes, there were seven new players in the starting 11, including an all-new back line anchored by Soumare and impressive Belgian Laurent Ciman.

The first outing raised hope the changes have made the Impact a much better side than the one that finished last in MLS last season.

Winning the two-game, aggregate goals series would be a boost heading into the MLS regular season, which starts on the road March 7 against D.C. United.

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