Soccer’s Impact

The Montreal Impact just set the all-time attendance record for a CONCACAF game.

As Ottawa continues its CFL vs. MLS debate and the Vancouver Whitecaps wait patiently in the wings for word on their MLS franchise, the Montreal Impact, the unassuming USL-1 franchise, just set the all-time attendance record for a CONCACAF game.

With little less than a week before their quarterfinal Champions League match against Mexican side Santos Laguna, the Impact announced Monday that they have sold 43,000 tickets to Olympic Stadium.

Let me repeat that once more — Montreal, in the dead of winter, in the heart of Habs country, just sold 43,000 seats to a soccer game.

Ole, ole, ole, non?

It’s not as strange as you might think — the late ’70s and early ’80s were filled with these kinds of numbers. In 1983, 60,432 showed up at B.C. Place to watch Vancouver take on the Seattle Sounders. Their average attendance that year was well over 29,000.

In 1981, 58,542 cheered the Montreal Manic past the Chicago Sting — both now defunct franchises. Montreal’s average attendance that year topped 23,000.

Toronto FC supporters will point to their past two seasons of stadium sell-outs as proof of the beautiful game returning to popularity in Canada, but, for Montreal, it is certainly the high water mark in the wave of the game’s rising interest.

But two things, beyond the attendance, are needed to make this moment last as a Canadian success story.

One, the club has to get a decent result at the Big O. If Santos wipes the pitch with them, those waves of interest will recede quickly in Montreal. Bluntly, the odds are stacked against them. Santos is approaching mid-season form in the Mexican Premier league while Montreal is still shaking off its winter hibernation. The two-game home and away format allows for few mistakes but even a tie in next Wednesday’s game would give the Impact hope of advancing to the CONCACAF semi-finals.

Two, the winter weather has got to co-operate. It was nearly 10 years ago that a very large chunk of that aging elephant collapsed on to a surprised auto show and since then, little winter activity has been permitted.

The City of Montreal has put strict conditions on its use: There can be no snow or ice on the roof at kickoff, there can be no snow or ice on the tower at kickoff and in the 24 hours prior to kickoff there can be no snowfall or freezing rain forecast.

So, basically, there may be no kickoff.

The following night will be the makeup date — but after that, no one is quite sure what will happen.

For those who have pained for the return to the game’s popularity of 20 years ago, now would be the time to put aside your club allegiances and get behind the Impact for the sake of the game.

Or, if that’s too much to ask, at the very least, pray for some good weather.

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