MONTREAL – Buzz is growing around Canadian soccer as the Vancouver Whitecaps are about a month away from their MLS debut.
But Franchise No. 19 made a significant announcement of its own on Monday, even though it’s a year away from its own curtain-raiser in Major League Soccer.
The Montreal Impact not only will host Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls on May 11 in a friendly, they’ll do so in the up-close and intimate confines of 13,034-seat Saputo Stadium, the venue that will be renovated and expanded for the club’s inclusion into MLS for the 2012 season.
Montreal likely would have turned out gladly in numbers for such a splashy event – nearly 48,000 packed adjacent Olympic Stadium to see the Impact's friendly against AC Milan last June, and more than 55,000 were in attendance for the Impact’s magical CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal win over Santos of Mexico in 2009.
[inline_node:327135]It’s a good bet that residents of la belle ville would come out again to see arguably the most famous French-speaking player in the game. But that wasn’t the point, according to Joey Saputo (above, left).
“We never considered playing the game at the Olympic Stadium,” the Impact president told reporters in a conference call on Monday. “We felt it was important for us to stay at our stadium.”
Saputo also remarked that this will be the only game in Montreal against an MLS opponent this season, other than an April date with Vancouver in first leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship semifinals (the Impact also could face Toronto FC in the finals in May). He also confirmed that the club would stage other exhibition games, likely at the end of July, as part of the yearlong centenary celebrations for the Quebec Soccer Federation.
Pressed on signing a player of Henry’s caliber when the Impact join MLS, Saputo stated, “I think what’s important is to have a winning team, and if that means going out and getting a marquee player, it is something we would certainly consider.”
With the Impact scheduled to join MLS in 12 months time, Montreal fans could not have gotten a better opportunity to watch up close and personal a team against whom the Impact will need to match up – both on and off the pitch – come 2012.
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 Montreal's Team 990.