The Impact were one victory away from winning the biggest soccer tournament in North America, but they were thumped 4-2 by Mexico's Club America in the second leg of the final at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday.
Even with the result — a 5-3 loss on aggregate — the Impact coaching staff were happy with what the team accomplished.
"Of course we wanted to win it, but we should be proud," said the Impact's director of international business development Nick De Santis. "The players should be proud and the city should be proud because we showed that we can compete against the best."
De Santis, a member of the Montreal Impact organization for nearly two decades, has seen first-hand how far the team has come. De Santis played midfield for the Montreal Supra of the Canadian Soccer League in the late 1980s before playing two stints with the Impact between 1993 and 2003. At the time, the club played its soccer at Centre Claude-Robillard, a small outdoor field.
"Playing sometimes in front of 500 to 1,000 people, now playing in front of 61,000…" said De Santis, who also coached the team for a few years before becoming its technical director in 2011. "Now you start feeling that it's a cultural thing that people are starting to grow into. It's a great feeling. There's a big vibe and buzz around the city and around the nation.
"It's something that I always dreamed of, to be a part of it in my own city."
Montreal eliminated six clubs en route to the final, including two former Champions League winners, over the course of the nearly year-long journey.
The improbable exploit took Frank Klopas' men from a 5,000-seat stadium in Edmonton in the Canadian Championship last May to a 100,000-seater in Mexico City last week.
It all ended when Club America, one of the richest and most storied franchises in North America, scored four-second half goals in front of 61,004 hopeful Impact fans at the Olympic Stadium in the second leg of the final. It was the second largest crowd for a soccer match in Canada.
"What a great moment for us to be in a final and participating in something like this," said assistant coach Mauro Biello. "These are things that don't happen in a career. I'm thankful and proud of this team. By getting to the final, we put this team on the map internationally."
Added former Impact player Jason De Vos, who donned Montreal's jersey from 1993 to '96: "It's amazing, it really is. It's a great advert for Canadian soccer. Hopefully environments like this can inspire kids to want to play at this level."
Club America will head to Japan in December to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup, a tournament that opposes the winners of each of the seven continental competitions.
Since its inception in 2000, the Club World Cup has been won exclusively by European and Brazilian teams. Last year, Spain's Real Madrid beat Argentina's San Lorenzo in the final.
Notes: Andres Romero and Jack McInerney scored for the Impact. ... Club America got three goals from Dario Benedetto and another from Oribe Peralta.