The Montreal Impact finished last in 2014, but reaching the final of the CONCACAF Champions League has made them the pride of Major League Soccer this year.
The Impact weathered a furious second half comeback bid by Alajuelense to win their two-game, total goals semifinal 4-4 on the away goals rule on Tuesday night in Costa Rica to become the first Canadian team and only the second from MLS to reach the final.
"What a great night for the Montreal Impact, the city, the fans and MLS," coach Frank Klopas said after the match. "The club has had a lot of great moments and when you do something like this it adds to the tradition.
"It's amazing how things change. After a difficult year we made a lot of changes. This is something we wanted to give back to the fans. You can see the way the guys came to compete."
The Impact brought a 2-0 lead to Alajuela, Costa Rica thanks to a victory at Olympic Stadium two weeks ago, but holding that lead before a hostile, projectile-throwing crowd in the return leg was not a given.
Goals from Jack McInerney and Andres Romero meant Alajuelense needed five goals to win. They got four, including one in added time, but the Impact held on to lose 4-2 in the game but to take the series.
The opening leg of the final will be April 22 against either Herediano of Costa Rica or the powerhouse Mexican squad Club America. The Impact will host the return leg April 29 at the Big O.
Alajuelense stormed out looking for goals, but the Montreal defence held and McInerney gave them the lead when he slammed a Dominic Oduro cross inside the near post in the 42nd minute.
Pablo Gabas gave Alajuelense life with a goal from a free kick two minutes into the second half and he scored again in the 60th.
But Patrice Bernier, who had just substituted for McInerney, fed Romero on the left side. The Argentine cut to the middle and slotted in what turned out to be the series winning goal in the 72nd.
The Costa Ricans then needed three goals to win. They got one from Allen Guevara in the 79th and tension mounted when Jonathan McDonald scored in stoppage time. But the Impact, who fell apart in a similar situation in a quarter-final in Mexico in 2009, managed to hold on.
"The first half was battle," said goalkeeper Evan Bush. "We scored on pretty much the only chance we had.
"I'm told their third goal was offside by quite a bit, but we battled through and did what we had to do to advance."
Added Bernier: "It wasn't pretty in the end, but we're in the final now."
The Impact travelled Wednesday evening to Houston, where they are to face the Dynamo in a league match on Saturday.
They are expected to ask the San Jose Earthquakes to postpone an April 25th match to later in the season so they can concentrate on the Champions League final. They did the same with a game scheduled for April 4 against the New York Red Bulls.
The end of their MLS schedule could be busy as a result, but the Champions League is the priority now.
The CONCACAF champion advances to the FIFA Club World Cup against other continental winners. Real Madrid is the defending champion.