Winnipeg Fury Posted May 30, 2005 Share Posted May 30, 2005 Full stands, championship make Montreal Impact Canadian soccer success MONTREAL (CP) - By game time, the grandstands were full at Claude Robillard Stadium and more fans were still filing in to see the Montreal Impact, a rare soccer success story in Canada. The defending champions of the United Soccer League first division, formerly known as the A-League, played to a 0-0 draw Sunday with the Rochester Raging Rhinos in their first home game of the season before 12,086 fans, a team record for a regular season game. The win left Montreal unbeaten at 4-0-3 despite starting the season with six straight road games. For beaming team president Joey Saputo, the crowd is proof that a 2002 decision to build a team with a strong core of local players and with close ties to local minor soccer programs was the right one. "Our players are very entrenched in the community," said Saputo, whose team unfurled a banner signalling both its 1994 and 2004 championships before the game. "Fourteen of our 23 players were either born in Montreal or played most of their soccer here, so they speak the language and understand the mentality. "They can associate with the fans and the fans associate with them. It's very grass roots." Coach Nick DeSantis is a former Impact player and five starters are also from the Montreal area - defenders Adam Braz and Nevio Pizzolitto, midfielder Patrick Luduc and forwards Mauro Biello and Ali Gerba. A sprinkling of outside talent like midfielders Ze Roberto of Brazil, Masahiro Fukasawa of Japan, Ottawa resident Eduardo Sebrango of Cuba and towering goalkeeper Greg Sutton of Hamilton have made them perennial contenders in a little-known but competitive league. The crowd, which included hundreds of kids in their local team shirts, beat the regular season record of 11,109 set last year and was far more than the 8,877 that turned out for last year's home opener. They held the better of the play against Rochester (1-4-1), but couldn't connect for a goal. "It was great to see all those people come out and support us," said Biello. "It would have been better if we'd scored for them, but hopefully they'll be back next game and we'll get a win for them." The seating capacity was raised from 8,500 last year to 9,500 and still fans had to spill onto the grass embankments in the end zones. In a city that lost its major league baseball team the Montreal Expos for lack of fan support, the Impact is thriving, on a much smaller scale, with a community-based approach similar to that of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, who regularly fill 20,202-seat Molson Stadium. Their games are broadcast on local French radio and 14 games are broadcast in English. They also have six games on French television on RDS. The formula doesn't work everywhere, as the last-place Toronto Lynx can attest. The Lynx, last in the USL and who will play the Impact in Montreal on Friday, tend to get overlooked in Toronto's busy pro sports market. "Unfortunately, the Lynx aren't looked at as the top of the pyramid in Toronto," said Saputo. "We're linked to the (Quebec soccer) federation. "We have 160,000 kids that play, we have a high-performance centre and then the Impact. We all work together to promote soccer. The Lynx aren't looked as the (best) pro team because there's a lot of clubs that feel they can do just as well." Despite decent attendance, the Impact almost died in 2002 after some years of poor management, but were relaunched as a non-profit company by the Saputo family with help from the Quebec government and Hydro Quebec. Saputo now has plans to build a new 13,000-seat stadium, which could be expanded to 17,000 if needed, in what is currently an near-empty area southwest of downtown. The Saputo family, which owns cheese-maker Saputo Inc., will put up half the projected $15 million cost of the stadium with the rest coming from other private sources. "When we launched the team, our goal was to have a facility dedicated solely to soccer, not just the Impact," said Saputo, who hopes to have municipal approvals in place to start work in August or September. While Claude Robillard in the city's north end is built mainly for athletics, with a wide track separating fans from field, the new stadium will bring viewers close to the action. "The closest seat is four metres from the touchlines," Saputo said. "We're taking it to the next level," added Biello. "We get good crowds. The organization is run first class. "We're riding the wave now. People are behind us. There's media at our practises every day. The players are excited and I'm excited for the city." Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.