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Butler: Saputo Stadium ready to play, on time and on budget

Noel Butler
6/16/2012 12:11:16 PM
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As people arrived at Saputo Stadium for the club's annual end of season awards banquet back on the evening of October 4 last year they were met by the sight of Joey Saputo wearing a construction safety helmet.

When he clambered aboard an earth digger to ceremoniously commence the construction a sigh of relief could be heard all around. Finally and almost exactly a year after the club had originally planned for, the renovations of Saputo Stadium were set to commence.

Some 1,150 tons of steel and 4,000 cubic metres of concrete later the stadium will open for business Saturday night when MLS's 19th franchise entertain an old friend off the pitch and fierce foe on it – the Seattle Sounders.

As he looks out of his office window and sees the players walk across the recently manicured pitch the most relieved man in all of MLS is Richard Legendre.

Tasked by the club to spearhead the project, he is both the Impact and Saputo Stadium's executive vice president. "I cannot say we had doubts, but on the other hand we knew that it was very, very tight in the time frame. To build this facility, it's almost like a new project and to do it in seven months - including the three months during the winter - we knew it was extremely tight.

"On the other hand we didn't have any Plan B. We had told everybody just one scenario - June 16 we play at Saputo Stadium. So with that in mind, whenever I had any doubt you eliminate them very quickly," Legendre told TSN.ca as all around him workers are adding the finishing touches.

Not only did the Impact not have time on their side, in early March they had to deal with something completely unexpected. A concrete slab collapsed in a parking area adjacent to the stadium.

"That was something that of course we all would have wanted to avoid. Everyone though reacted unbelievably well, especially Olympic Park, as they were the first to be hurt by that. It didn't slow anything down thankfully. It did though increase the work load and it made it much more difficult for everyone involved."

Press on they did. Staying within budget, almost an impossibility in Montreal, was a top priority.

"It was $23 million of public money and even if there were increases it would not be put on the burden of the public money and not a penny more. From Day 1, that was very important for Joey Saputo and all of our team. It adds to the challenge but the end result is magnificent as everyone will see."

In an era where the cost of soccer specific stadiums can cost anywhere upwards of $100 million and more cost control is at the heart of Saputo Stadium. "In our case when we put the two phases together, Phase 1 and Phase 2 it is less than $50 million and we are very proud of that."

A number of dignitaries and local personalities will be in attendance for the opening. As will MLS commissioner Don Garber and league president Mark Abbott. MLS Executive Vice President Dan Courtemanche is infusive with his praise.

"We have heard great reports about Stade Saputo and look forward to attending the debut of this intimate soccer-specific stadium. Joey Saputo and his family along with the entire Impact staff should be applauded, making their vision for a world-class stadium become a reality. We believe the passionate soccer fans in Quebec will create an electric atmosphere at Stade Saputo, making it extremely tough for visiting clubs."

It has long been the league's goal to have as many clubs as conceivably possible playing in their own stadiums.

"Soccer-specific stadiums serve as true homes for the community and these venues are placing permanent roots for the professional game in the United States and Canada. More importantly, each stadium serves as an aspirational destination for the countless young soccer players in the area who will be able to play in the shadows of the venue with the hope of someday playing on the same field as their heroes." Courtemanche adding, "We hope to see an Impact Academy product playing for the first team someday."

A stadium is essential, a pitch paramount.

"We are pleased to see that Stade Saputo will have a world-class playing surface. While MLS provides recommendations regarding types of grass to install in stadiums, there is no mandate regarding the specific type of grass as we have many different climates throughout the league," Courtemenache disclosed. "MLS does have specifications on how to maintain the field such as playing size, length of the grass and watering on gameday. These guidelines ensure consistency throughout the league."

The Saputo Stadium surface has been cultivated and grown over the previous nine months. "It's been ready for a week, which is just an unbelievable accomplishment," stated Legendre.

As for the intimacy and atmosphere and even when factoring in the capacity has been increased by just over 50 per cent according to Legendre the design has made the stadium appear more intimate. "It's funny, the last row on the south side that used to feel so far away from the pitch now with the suites behind that row and with the roof on top of it you now feel you can touch the pitch from any row."

"I can't wait to hear the Ultras here, their voices will remain all around the stadium."

Mere hours away before Impact supporters begin to make their way over to new Saputo Stadium there is work still to be done. Well not quite work. Legendre preferring to compare it to when family and friends are coming over for a special occasion.

"It's like when you are having a party at home it's the final touches. The guests are coming soon, you think you're ready but if you want to really finalize everything the last 24 hours there's still things to be done but nothing at all major that could in any way effect Saturday's presentation."

"We're ready. But when you host a party there is something to be done until the bell rings"

That bell will sound when the referee blows his whistle over at Saputo Stadium shortly after 7:30pm Saturday evening.

Montreal Impact v. Seattle Sounders can been seen live on TSN2, tonight at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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