2012 was always going to be a memorable year for soccer in Montreal, with the introduction of the Montreal Impact to Major League Soccer (MLS), the premier soccer league in Canada and the United States. However, as with any expansion team, the excitement surrounding the team has been matched with a long list of concerns. The Impact made some major steps to setting aside these concerns during their home opener on St. Patrick’s Day against Chicago.
In front of a record crowd for a professional soccer game in Montreal – announced to be 58,912 – the Impact pulled off a 1-1 draw with the visiting Chicago Fire. The Impact were playing at the Olympic Stadium as a result of construction delays to their future home – Stade Saputo – which will not be completed until mid-June. The cavernous Olympic Stadium, initially built to house the now defunct Montreal Expos, is certainly not the best soccer venue. The fans are far away from the pitch, the vast roof dampens the atmosphere, and the playing surface itself is far from ideal. There were also concerns that the stadium issues would lower attendance to the game. The team itself also met scrutiny, as it was considered by many to not have enough offensive capability to compete in the league. However, none of these factors seemed to matter when the fans nearly blew off the roof after captain Davy Arnaud scored the club’s first goal in MLS history.
As fans of any expansion franchise in MLS will say, that first goal is a special moment. Toronto had to wait until their fifth franchise game to score, whereas Vancouver’s came in the first fifteen minutes. In both cases, though, the scorers of these goals have gone down in club history. Davy Arnaud’s name will now play a similarly important role in the Montreal Impact’s history.
The goal itself was fairly impressive, and managed to dissuade some of the early concerns that the team has no firepower. After fifty-five minutes of frustration for the Impact, Gambian-born winger Sanna Nyassi played in a ball from the right hand side, which was met by the head of Arnaud as he guided it into the far corner of the net, past the outstretched arms of Chicago keeper. In that moment – and the pandemonium that followed – the worries leading up to the game and season seemed to be thrown aside.
Arnaud immediately started sprinting toward the Impact supporters. Before he could reach the stands, he was mobbed by a group of equally excited teammates, delighted at the breakthrough.
Supporters – who had, in some cases, waited years for this moment–were exchanging hugs, jumping around without abandon and grinning giddily. The scene was absolutely infectious, especially amongst the supporters of the Montreal Ultras, an official group of intense soccer fans. They even set off fire works and flares in the crowd with delirious excitement.
The concern that the location of Olympic Stadium would take away from the atmosphere was certainly gone, as the fans energized the stadium in a way that had not been done in recent memory. The worry of poor ticket sales was answered earlier by the announced attendance of nearly 60,000. This first goal may also spur a good number of them to show up again and again as the season progresses. Most important was the mere fact that the Impact managed to score a goal, despite the critiques of the team that head coach Jesse Marsch had assembled.
The fairytale story was cut short by Chicago’s response in the 71st minute. Although Montreal came close to scoring several times in the last ten minutes, they were forced to settle for the 1-1 final. At the end of the match the supporters greeted the draw as a moral victory, giving their players a standing ovation upon the final whistle.
As the Impact’s season continues they will still have to deal with the stadium problems and with competing week to week in the MLS. However, they will be able to tackle them with the encouragement of one absolutely incredible moment that will forever have a place in Montreal Impact folklore.
Sam Gregory is U0 Arts student. He hopes the Blue Jays can return to their early nineties glory. He can be reached at email@example.com.