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    Forza, Montreal!


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    Way back on September 2, 1981, the Montreal Manic of the old North American Soccer League scored a 3-2 playoff win over the always-tough Chicago Sting – in front of 58,542 noisy, happy fans at the Olympic Stadium.

    It wasn’t the first time Le Manic drew over 50,000 fans — but it was the last. There are very knowledgeable young Canadian soccer fans who aren’t even aware it ever happened.

    And then, this past Wednesday evening, it actually happened again.

    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

    The Montreal Impact, the second-division little soccer team that could, did. First, they got city permission to play in the snow vulnerable Big Owe. Then rounded up 55,000-plus supporters by pricing tens of thousands of tickets at $6, and sending them out to every youth soccer club and high school in sight.

    Then, most importantly, they not only battered Mexican side Santos Laguna 2-0 on a good goal early and a cheap one late. All those young fans – gleefully adding their voices to fervent singing from the Impact’s Ultras – were treated to a huge and happy victory. And the most amazing thing of all?

    Everyone concerned made this look … easy.

    It’s not just that the Impact clinched the Voyageurs Cup with a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC at BMO Field in Toronto last summer. They’ve won that mug seven years on the trot. But never before did it gain them entry to the CONCACAF Champions League.

    Given that chance, that golden opportunity, the Impact have run wild. And if they can hold on in the return match in Mexico next week, they will be in the final four of a tournament whose winner is one of only six on the entire planet that will be invited to the next World Club Championship.

    And it’s not just that Santos Laguna never adapted to the tough, bouncy artificial turf in La Chasm Concrete. They never had a chance to. The Impact worked hard to win and push the ball all night. The visitors had one decent sustained spell before halftime, but it was never going to be enough.

    If you just dialed in, and watched the game with no idea of the context, you’d see a huge crowd and a solid effort from a fast and feisty home side. The facts that the Impact play in a second-tier loop and no Montreal team had seen a home crowd that big in over a quarter century? Impossible to tell on both counts.

    I watched the match in a hip new soccer bar on the west edge of downtown Toronto, surrounded by TFC fans I have come to know well over the past two seasons. In the pre-TFC days, a run like this by a Montreal team would have won some serious support down the 401 in Hoggtown. But to expect that now is to forget how wrenching – and shockingly painful – TFC’s exit from the festivities really was.

    In the dying moments last July, needing a goal to survive, those fans stood helpless in traumatized disbelief as now-former Toronto striker Jeff Cunningham whiffed on an empty Impact net from five yards out. And of course that’s not the only reason Toronto didn’t advance. The Reds got only one of a possible six points from the Whitecaps in that tournament, and that’s what really did in the dream.

    But to lose like that, and then see 50,000 fans and such a big, easy, fat, sassy, impressive Impact victory? Well, of such things are great and bitter rivalries made. I’d wager 90 per cent of Reds fans are anticipating their next shot at Montreal more than the visit of any MLS opponent.

    And none of that mattered a fig in Montreal as the final whistle blew. The Impact won the game, backed up their title of Canadian champions, and introduced pretty much an entire generation of future Montreal soccer fans to pro soccer at its most exciting.

    Great game? No. Great story? The best!

    Yet another in a rising tide of Canadian pro soccer miracles.

    Anyone outside of MLS league office still think $40-million U.S. is the true measure of a soccer club? Your loss, if so.

    Onward!

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