MONTREAL - It's been quite a ride for coach Frank Klopas and the Montreal Impact.
Montreal faces Mexico's Club America in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final Wednesday. Last week in Mexico City, the teams battled to a 1-1 tie.
With a win or scoreless tie, the Impact will hoist the CCL trophy before a sold-out Olympic Stadium crowd and successfully cap a most improbable year-long journey.
"In the beginning, you look at the road and it's always very difficult," Klopas said before Montreal's practice Monday. "But we aimed very high and there was a belief in the group. We couldn't have asked for a better script."
Montreal's route to the final began last spring when it beat FC Edmonton and rival Toronto FC to win the Canadian championship. The Impact then finished ahead of the New York Red Bulls and El Salvador's CD FAS in the Champions League group stage to advance to the knockout round.
After a four-month hiatus, Montreal picked up where it left off, beating Mexico's Pachuca on aggregate in the two-legged series in February. In the semifinals, the Impact held on for another aggregate victory, this time against Costa Rica's Alajuelense.
Now Montreal is a good result away from winning North America's biggest soccer tournament. And for Klopas, Wednesday's game will be the biggest of his coaching career.
"Moments like this don't come often," he said. "For our fans, the organization, the city and MLS, it would be great.
"It would be something really special and it's a historic moment that binds this team forever."
The Impact, the first-ever Canadian team to make it to the Champions League final, is looking to be the first non-Mexican tournament winner since Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa in 2005. If Montreal wins, it will travel to Japan in December for the FIFA Club World Cup to compete against some of the world's top clubs.
"When I came here, I knew that playing in the Champions League was important to the team," midfielder Ignacio Piatti said through a translator. "The more we play, the further we get in this tournament, the more emotions there are.
"I'm ready for this final game to bring the trophy to Montreal."
The Impact will be without starting goalkeeper Evan Bush, who has been a big part of the team's success thus far. Bush is suspended for the final due to an accumulation of yellow cards, including a controversial one late in last week's game on Mexican soil.
German 'keeper Kristian Nicht, acquired by the team through transfer late Monday, is expected to replace Bush. The 33-year-old was with Montreal on loan earlier this year.
Club America will look to take advantage of Montreal's goalkeeping situation as it attempts to claim a record-tying sixth Champions League trophy. The Mexican team was fast and threatening throughout the first leg, directing 25 shots towards the Impact's net.
"We have to play like we did away from home," said Montreal midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, whose team hasn't been shut out in any of the 13 Canadian Championship and Champions League matches so far. "But this time we have to play really good attacking football.
"We have to push up well and keep the ball better than we did in the first leg."