My first real exposure to professional soccer came in 1981 when the Montreal Manic arrived in this city, part of the then thriving North American Soccer League. I was very green 18 year old reporter for The Sunday Express Newspaper, part of the Quebecor empire, and given this beat as my very own. It was quite exciting. The names of many of the players - Tony Towers, Gordon Alec Hill, Thomas Usiyan, Andy Lynch, Carmine Marcantonio, Bob Rigby and others - still ring in my head to this day.
Le Manic caught the attention of Montreal sports fans and on September 2, 1981 they attracted 58,542 fans to the Olympic Stadium in a playoff match versus the Chicago Sting. By the end of the 1983 season interest had dissipated and Molson Brewery, the club owners, pulled the plug.
The Montreal Impact, of course, have had a long and successful journey in this city. In 2012 owner Joey Saputo moved them into Major League Soccer. While I still have an easier time remembering the names of Manic players, than those of the Impact, there is no doubt this is one fine oiled operation.
|Moffat, Needham, Joey Alfieri and Giancarlo Aimone in the booth.|
I was in attendance at the Big Owe Wednesday night to watch an exciting 2-0 victory by the Impact over Alajuelense of Costa Rica in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal. There were 33,675 fans on hand and the place was indeed rocking, especially for the first 13 minutes as they team notched both of its tallies. TSN 690 play by play announcer Rick Moffat had to once again test his vocal chords with those endless goal calls of his. "I listened to a lot of English soccer play by play men," Moffat told me before the game. "I guess I am following their leads and others who broadcast soccer. It is not the same as a goal in hockey."
Moffat and his broadcast partner, former Impact star and Dollard des Ormeaux native Grant Needham, will be in Costa Rica for the second and final game of this series in just over two weeks. Hats off to these guys and TSN 690 for bringing us these games and for Simon Tsalikis and his excellent post-game show for really stirring up some excitement for this team. The Impact normally play next door at Saputo Stadium, an absolutely beautiful complex which is worth attending a game at even if you do not love soccer. They will return there when (and if ever) we get some warm weather in this city.
CONCACAF has no doubt created a buzz in this city. While it is hard to keep track of who exactly is on the Impact roster, on a night when 33,000 plus are cheering the hometown on what we are looking at is more of an "event" than a "game."
There is no question that the Impact need to step up their efforts in community relations. Team captain and Montreal-raised Patrice Bernier is a true fan favorite. He was benched against Alajuelense. That was the decision of head coach Frank Klopas, who was suspended for this game. His assistant Mauro Biello, probably with the blessing of Klopas, did indeed send Bernier into the game near the end; the crowd erupted with a standing ovation. I must say I had goosebumps. It was just one of those moments - and a message to Klopas, Biello and owner Saputo that there is something to be said about a hometown hero. His benching has been the talk of local talk shows, English and French, for a week. That is not the kind of distraction a team that wants to draw consistent crowds for the regular season needs.
The Impact return to regular MLS play Saturday versus New England. But a win or tie in Costa Rica in April could move them towards international glory, something this city will definitely toast to.
r SSimon Tsalikis