FC Edmonton had its first Amway Canadian Championship final within its grasp. But then it all slipped away.
Edmonton was winning on aggregate after 90 minutes of play on Wednesday, even though the Montreal Impact were winning the match 3-2. But Patrice Bernier scored late in stoppage time on a penalty kick to give Montreal its second consecutive Amway Canadian Championship final berth.
"It's sickening," said Frank Jonke, who scored the game's two goals for Edmonton three minutes apart in the second half. "It leaves a sick feeling in everybody's stomach on our team. To lose, to not go through on that, is very sickening for us."
Having lost the first leg of the home-and-home series 2-1 in Edmonton last week, the Impact needed a two-goal victory for a spot in the next round.
Bernier's goal five minutes into stoppage time, effectively the last kick of the game, gave Montreal the 5-4 victory on aggregate over the Eddies.
In the dying minutes of added time, Montreal's Heath Pearce fired a shot into a crowd of Edmonton defenders in the box. Referee Drew Fischer blew his whistle for handball, ran over to Edmonton's Kareem Moses, and then pointed to the penalty spot.
"I don't think it was a handball," said Jonke. "I don't think it was a penalty, and I think we should be going through."
Edmonton coach Colin Miller also thought his team was robbed.
"(Two Edmonton players) saw one of our players with his hands behind his back. And the ball hit him here," said Miller, pointing to his shoulder. "The referee then went to the wrong player to tell him it hit him."
Miller was livid with Fischer after the game, and confronted the official as he was leaving the pitch.
"Our players in the second half didn't deserve to get beaten in the manner that they did," said Miller. "I had a go at the referee after the game, and rightly so. The job that we do as coaches is hard enough without that decision being made."
Impact president Joey Saputo then jumped onto the field and got into a screaming match with Miller.
"I wished him a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!" quipped the Edmonton coach. "I'm sure Mr. Saputo will buy me a Guinness afterwards."
With the win, Montreal (1-0-1) will play Toronto FC in the two-leg final on May 28 and June 4. The winner will advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Impact went up 3-0 on Wednesday on two first-half goals by Jack McInerney and a 47th minute strike by Jeb Brovsky. Montreal was all but assured victory before Edmonton clawed back in the second half.
Jonke scored his first goal in the 67th minute when his shot from just outside the six-yard box deflected off an Impact defender and beat goalie Evan Bush.
The Edmonton striker added what would have been the series-clincher three minutes later from the penalty spot, firing right down the middle for his second of the game. The Eddies were awarded a penalty after Impact defender Karl Ouimette took down Neil Hlavaty in the box.
Jonke's goals were the first conceded by the Impact at Saputo Stadium in four Canadian Championship matches dating back to 2012 when the team joined MLS.
"The game should have been 5-0," said Impact coach Frank Klopas. "It should have been over. It was a lack of concentration. In five minutes, the game changed. We should have never been in this situation. We crumbled. Our mentality has to be stronger."
If not for Bernier's stoppage-time goal from the spot, the Eddies would have progressed to the next round.
"Some guys took their foot off the gas pedal, and we let them right back into it," said McInerney. "We were fortunate to get a goal at the end. It's about time something goes our way this season."
Last week in Edmonton, the Eddies scored a stoppage-time goal for the 2-1 victory. McInerney was the lone goal scorer for Montreal in that game, beating goalkeeper John Smits in the 56th minute.
It only took 10 minutes for McInerney to score on the return leg at Saputo Stadium, firing home after a Justin Mapp cross missed Felipe in the box but fell right to the 21-year-old instead.
"No disrespect to Edmonton, but they're a lower-level team," said McInerney. "I would expect from myself to go out there and score every game against them."
Mapp fed McInerney again seven minutes later, flicking the ball to the on-rushing striker with his heel at the edge of the 18-yard box. McInerney gave no chance to Smits, beating the Eddies' keeper with a quick strike.
As winners of last year's Canadian Championship, the Impact made it to the CONCACAF Champions League for the second time in the continental tournament's six-year history, where they were eliminated in the group stage.
Notes: Edmonton plays in the North American Soccer League, a league just below MLS. They are ninth in the NASL with four points from five games and have now played eight games in the last 26 days. ... Striker Marco Di Vaio (hamstring injury) missed Wednesday's game. Di Vaio has not played since April 26. ... There were less than 5,000 people in attendance at Saputo Stadium. ... The Impact return to MLS play on Saturday when they take on D.C. United in the American capital. ... The Eddies are on the road to face the San Antonio Scorpions on Saturday.