Thousands of people eagerly left their houses two Saturdays in a row to witness a revolution in Montreal. The buzz around the usually empty Olympic Stadium was magical — the chants worthy of a European championship game — as thousands joined in singing “Montreal, Montreal, Montreal, olé olé olé.” The deafening crowd erupted with joyful cheers as Italian star Marco Di Vaio scored a goal during two back-to-back games. The reasoning for our joy? The Montreal Impact was in town.
Montreal’s sports scene is going through a change. Where it was until very recently dominated by our beloved Habs, the Impact’s debut in Major League Soccer was met with flying numbers and die-hard fans. Not to mention, the acquisition of two star Italian players in the likes of Alessandro Nesta and Di Vaio have Montrealers feeling as if they’re actually attending a real European soccer match.
The truth is that soccer is a European sport. ‘Fútbol’ is to Europe as hockey is to Montreal. They live it and breathe it every day. Therefore, seeing soccer succeed in Montreal is attributed to the fact that our city has the true characteristics of a mixed European city. We are a melting pot of international cultures that enjoy this sport more than anything. It is therefore reasonable to say that some of our residents have probably never even heard of hockey prior to living here, although they end up getting engulfed in our passion. However, give them a good soccer team, a sport that is internationally renowned and successful, and you have yourself a serious moneymaker and a lot of room for growth.
Now that we finally have a team in a respectable league that we can support, it’s no wonder the Impact is becoming a team stars will want to play for. Our fan base is incredible, our city passionate and winning here will be glorious for any athlete.
The players are feeling it and the fans are feeling it; a soccer team that will soon have the entire city behind it.
Last year, the Impact broke a Canadian record in attendance for a soccer game when David Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy came to the Olympic Stadium for the first time, beating Toronto and Vancouver’s attendance for their opening games when they first joined the MLS. Although there’s no doubt in my mind that soccer can succeed in these two other Canadian metropolises, it’s clear to all that Montreal has a soccer flare that these two haven’t quite grasped.
Finally, Montreal can boast about having multiple sports teams, especially one that can survive at the same time as the Montreal Canadiens. More than 38,000 showed up to watch the Impact’s 2-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, despite the Canadiens playing only 20 minutes after the game finished.
If you would have told me 10 years ago that Montreal would have a world class soccer team playing in the MLS, led by a star Italian forward, no less, I would have laughed and shook my head. But this is the reality for all sports fans: Montreal is a booming soccer town, and it will be for the years to come.