LAVAL, Que. - The allure of a grass field has made newly built Saputo Stadium in Montreal the venue for Canada's World Cup soccer qualifying match against St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The first leg of the Stage Two CONCACAF qualifying series will be played June 15 in Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The second leg goes June 20 in Montreal.
National team head coach Dale Mitchell said Tuesday his players asked the qualifier be played on a grass surface and that it be somewhere in eastern Canada to cut down on travel time from Europe, where most of them play for club teams.
The 13,000-seat Saputo Stadium at Olympic Park in Montreal's east end fit the bill.
BMO Field in Toronto, which is considered Canada's national soccer stadium, has a synthetic playing surface.
"It's a comfort level - this group is more comfortable on grass," said Mitchell. "We took their point of view under consideration at a meeting when I first joined the team.
"We took their wishes to the board and we have a solution - for the first game to be played here. We're happy about that."
Saputo Stadium, built entirely with private money, is the home field of the Montreal Impact of the United Soccer Leagues. It's to open May 19 with a league match against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
If the St. Vincent game sells out, the stadium might be used for more national team contests although the Canadian Soccer Association is obliged under contract to hold at least six games per year at 20,000-seat BMO Field.
Mitchell is fine with that as well.
"The players we have now handle the turf really well," he said. "lt's a lively surface so you need a good first touch, and I think we have a group that can handle it.
"When they played Costa Rica at BMO Field last September, I thought they played well."
As one of the top 12 teams in the 35-country CONCACAF zone, Canada had a bye through Stage 1 of qualifying.
A win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines would put Canada into Stage 3, which begins in August. Likely opponents would include regional powers like Mexico, Jamaica and Honduras.
The top three countries from CONCACAF qualifying will go to the 2010 World Cup tournament in South Africa, while the fourth-place goes into a playoff against the sixth-place team from South America.
Canada has qualified only once for the World Cup tournament. That was in 1986 in Mexico when it lost all three first-round games and didn't score a goal.
A year earlier, Canada had played its only game ever against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a 2-1 victory in a warm-up game before their World Cup qualifiers.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with a population of only 121,000, is currently ranked 144th in the world while Canada is 63rd.
"Trying to find information about them is difficult," said Mitchell. "They play matches and they're not publicized.
"I have one or two videos of them from last year. I still want to see them play live but I have to find out when they play, which has not been easy."
The Saputo family, which built the stadium, and the Impact were delighted to land a World Cup match. The Impact drew more than 11,000 spectators per game, highest in the USL, at their former home, Claude Robillard Stadium
Their first month will be busy with the stadium opener as well as CONCACAF Champions League matches against Toronto FC and the Whitecaps.
"It's great for Saputo Stadium," said Impact executive vice-president Richard Legendre. "The stadium is not even open and it's already the choice of the players.
"We understood from the coach that the players wanted to start this long march towards the World Cup on natural grass, which we have. It's a little more complicated (than a synthetic surface), but I'm convinced it was the right choice from a technical point of view and also from an environmental point of view."