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Butler: Impact need to play through stadium distractions

Noel Butler
3/22/2014 8:24:50 PM
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 Hard to imagine a venue, which played host to one of the Montreal Impact's most memorable matches in their history when over 55,000 packed in for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals in February 2009, would play spoiler for today's home opener.

There goes my thinking as a parent that snow days only occurred at school. Not in a domed building.

This for a stadium which has such a tarnished history it makes the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar appear like a rational decision. Increment weather may have played its part but the real issue here though is with the building itself.

Today's postponement has certainly taken the gloss on what has been a very successful couple of months for the Impact off the pitch.

Earlier this week the club announced a number of supplier partnerships which are expected to dramatically improve the in-stadium experience. This follows up from a number of announcements and events which have occurred throughout the off season.

The Klopas announcement in mid-December could not have been better timed, as later that evening the Impact staged their inaugural Members General Assembly.

Staged at the very same downtown hotel the Sounders will spend an extra night in this weekend, the event drew a highly passionate crowd of in excess of 500 season ticket holders who interacted with the Impact's brain trust.

A Members Council comprising of 15 fans was introduced, it is they who will represent the supporters and stage regular meetings with club officials.

The first of those meetings took place in the Impact's locker room at Saputo Stadium last month. How relieved David Moyes must be that Manchester United don't hold similar events.

The bond between fan and club was further strengthened just before the season got underway when the Impact launched their new home shirt at a downtown venue which played host to Adele last time the Grammy winner played in town.

There aren't many supporters clubs in all of MLS as old as Montreal's UM02, who ironically trace their roots back to the time the Toronto Lynx bought a boisterous number to Montreal for an A-League game back in 2002.

The Montreal Impact could not have paid UM02 a greater compliment than by incorporating their moto "Toujours Fidèles" inside the collar of the new home shirt. The relationship between UM02 and the Impact has come a long way since the time of a walk out protest the night the Impact unveiled their MLS logo at an NASL match back in August 2011.

It can't be overstated the role UM02 and the other supporters clubs, which have sprung up since MLS came to Montreal in 2012, play in bringing new fans through the gates. The appetite for MLS has grown over the past two seasons, as has a much more genuine soccer atmosphere on match days.

Don't be surprised if their ranks are swelled Sunday afternoon with a cameo appearance by Montreal Mayor, Denis Coderre - likely wearing the Impact shirt that was given to him when the Mayor met with Joey Saputo at City Hall early in the new year.

When the club began their 2014 season ticket push last July an area of weakness in need of much improvement was with the Montreal business community.

That matter seems to have been addressed in the off season. Try finding yourself a Saputo Stadium corporate box for the season. Increased chats about the Impact around the office water cooler can be nothing but a good thing.

With the confirmation late this afternoon the game will go ahead Sunday afternoon, the Impact will need to build on what was an impressive display in Houston. Play those 90 minutes again and there is no way Houston would emerge with a 1-0 victory.

Undeserved as the defeat was these though are the games that come the end of the season can be the difference maker when the playoff positions are handed out.

Bruin got the fortunate deflection, Wenger the bobble of the ball when clean through on goal. A bounce here, a bounce there, the margin between defeat and victory can be cruel.

The key now is how the team react to that set back. Playing against a team which suffered a home defeat last time out and one which is supposed to be amongst the Western Conference pace setters adds to the task. Of no consequence is the absence of USMNT star Clint Dempsey.

The Impact's defence which looked shaky through the pre-season and during the opener in Dallas need to be focused, organized and disciplined throughout the 90.

The early season form of rookie right back Eric Miller has been most impressive.  He plays with the confidence of an MLS veteran and has certainly seized his opportunities. Continuing to play as he has, then the number two position is his to lose. 

With a fine display through a little over 70 minutes on the pitch in Houston it's hard to imagine that Bernier underwent serious knee surgery in the off season.

Just as Di Vaio's goals did through 2013, Bernier's relationship and understanding with Bernadello will go a long way to define the Impact's season.

The Impact will be hoping the Olympic Stadium turf does not have any adverse effects on their 30-something skipper. The MLS All Star is the heartbeat of the club, on and off the pitch.


You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

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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