What does it sound like when 55,571 hearts beat as one? To be more precise, what does it sound like when 55,571 hearts plus 11 (the Impact players) beat as one? Simply put the noise is deafening. Never let it be said again that Montreal is not a soccer town. When high quality soccer is offered to us, like last night's CONCACAF Champion's Cup quarter finals or the U-20 FIFA World Cup of the summer of 2007, Montreal turns out in great numbers. You can argue all you want about only 13,000 turning out to support the Impact on a regular basis, but when the chips are down record crowds turn out.
The huge attendance at last night's game was remarkable for several reasons. One being that it has always been argued that Montreal or Canada for that matter is a hockey nation and soccer is like a poor, ignored cousin. I'm not going to say that Canadians are not born with hockey in the blood, but I think that this country made up largely of immigrants from soccer crazy nations have soccer in their hearts.
Montreal has been aching for a competitive soccer team, whether on the national or professional league level, for years now. The Saputo family has given Montreal exactly that. Say what you will about the Saputos they are committed owners. Building their own soccer only stadium last year, on time and on budget, they demonstrated their commitment. Inputting the money for that huge undertaking and also to sign and retain high calibre players has been their priority. All this spending while keeping Impact tickets at a very reasonable price, they are excellent owners.
Secondly, it has always been argued that the Olympic Stadium is not a place that Montrealers will travel to to see sports. Especially in the dead of winter with the threat of a roof caving in on everyone's minds. We don't have to go into the whole demise of the Expos, do we? Well, last night proved that argument wrong as well. I think, like anything in this city, if you provide us with good entertainment we will come. And in droves.
Despite all the chest beating about last night's attendance it was only the third largest crowd to watch a soccer game in Montreal. During the Olympics in 1976 71,000 turned out for the Poland vs. East Germany final and 58,000 turned out for a Montreal Manic game during the 1981 quarter finals. Montrealers love an event and that is exactly what last night's game was.
The game did not disappoint. Knowing beforehand how many people would be there and that we were all going to dress in our Impact blue did not lessen how impressive the crowd was. Led by the Montreal Impact's devoted supporters, "Derrière le Filet" (who always sit behind the Impact 1st half goal) or their official name – Ultras de Montreal, the crowd was a blue sea of facepainted, Impact scarf wearing, white and blue flag waving, blue smoke bomb igniting, chanting, applauding, and drumming devotees. There were some Mexican flags and supporters in the crowd, but they were greatly outnumbered.
The party had barely gotten underway when Eduardo Sebrango (on a goal that seemed to go in off the Santos Laguna defender) finished off a nice give and go with fellow striker Roberto Brown to put the Impact up 1-0 barely 5 minutes into the game. The crowd went crazy and the party was really happening now.
This was supposed to be a match between two club teams from supposed 'fringe' leagues. Montreal belonging to the USL, a poor cousin to the MSL, and Santos Laguna a club from Mexico's Primera Division. Santos Laguna came into the game touted to be a faster and more skilled side led by Mexican national goaltender, Oswaldo Sanchez. Santos Laguna's season has already begun while the Montreal Impact's still in their off season. Montreal showed right off the bat that they were not intimidated by the reputed higher skilled team. While Santos Laguna, who had played a league game as recently as Sunday, looked like they ran out of steam as the game went on.
This early goal not only ignited the crowd, but forced Santos Laguna to open up their game a little to try and get the equalizer. Roughly one minute later Impact goaltender Matt Jordan was forced to come up with a huge save to protect his team's one goal lead. Jordan was called upon to make big saves at the 7th, 10th, 53rd, and 56th minutes. The last being off a curling free kick from 25 metres out by substitute Pedro Quinonez.
Even during their success the defense of the Impact has always been their weak point, but Jordan has often been able to come up with the big save to preserve a win. Often during the ensuing 85 minutes Santos Laguna attacked along their left side and picked on the defensive pairing of Adam Braz and Joey Gjertsen. Thankfully when they were broken down Jordan was there with his Superman cape to save the day.
The Impact controlled much of the play in the midfield with yeoman-like work by David Testo, who must have ran at least 12 kilometres during the contest. They had a chance to make it 2-0 during the first half in the 22nd minute off a Roberto Brown header, but Santos Laguna goaltender Sanchez batted away the high strike.
Finally in the 77th minute the Impact sealed the victory with a nice effort by striker Sebrango (his second goal of the game) beating Sanchez and a defender to the ball to head it into the net for an Impact 2-0 lead. The Montreal crowd really welcomed back Cuban born Sebrango for his second tour of duty with the team. And he reminded us what an impact player he can be running all night, winning the majority of balls in the air and being opportunistic around the net. A class striker.
The 2-0 victory by the Impact was impressive, but it is only the first step in their attempt to get into the CONCACAF Champion's League semi-finals. It is a home and away series and as such, the Impact will play the second leg of it in Torreon, Mexico next Thursday. Good luck boys and continue to do us proud!