For decades Olympic Stadium has been somewhat of a laughing stock in this city. The famous cost overruns from the 1976 Summer Olympic Games which never seemed to end; a roof that was supposed to open and close on demand that never quite cut it; and a general feeling that this was a cold, dark and out of the way facility not suited to host professional sports franchises.
While the Quebec government presently looks into the possibility of removing the roof completely, the Montreal Impact's Cinderella run in the CONCACAF Champions League would not have been possible at home without the "Big Owe." They made it all the way to the final against the very elite Team America from Mexico, losing 4-2 on April 29 before a more than sell out crowd of 61,004 people. I was fortunate enough to be at the game and having attended virtually every major event ever held at the Big Owe, this ranks right up there on the excitement meter. The Impact run began in the winter and had Olympic Stadium not existed or the roof had been removed, where would they have played their home games? Toronto? Vancouver?
|A look at part of the huge crowd, holding up blue and white squares left at their seats.|
Olympic Stadium has served as the home for Alouettes playoff games when they needed a place that had a larger capacity than Molson Stadium and more warmth in November. Major League Baseball may have left town 11 years ago and while every expert says we cannot bring back the Expos unless there is a brand new stadium, the Toronto Blue Jays have come here twice in the last two years and played before four sellout crowds for mere exhibition games.
Next week, Wednesday, May 6 (8 p.m.), the Impact return next door to Saputo Stadium for the start of the 2015-16 Amway Canadian CONCACAF competition against Toronto FC. Team owner Joey Saputo and his family put their money where their mouths are a few years ago and built this beautiful facility and then renovated it to increase capacity. On a nice night, there is no better place in the city to watch a life sporting event in the company of 20,000 fans.
|Action on the pitch.|
The finale against Team America sure brought back memories of the former Montreal Manic and to a lesser extent the Montreal Machine, a local franchise in the former World League of American Football. The latter squad sold out most of its games even though fans had no clue who any of the players are. Such is very much the situation with the Impact. Sure, the die hards know the roster clean. But I know of many people who attended the April 29 match simply because it was an "event." When PA announcer Robert Tanguay introduces the starting lineup he calls out the player's first name which is posted on the scoreboard at the same time. He leaves it to the crowd to finish the intro. And they do.
In my opinion the Impact need to take this fantastic run they just had and try to find a way to get out there in the community better, particularly to the areas of town where there are fans to gain. If they do not you will again start to see Saputo Stadium half or two-thirds full, something Joey Saputo does not consider satisfactory.
The press box at the Big Owe was jam packed for the finale. With the Canadiens resting before their next game in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Impact became "the" sports story in town. When they got off to a quick 1-0 lead, CBC weather forecaster and soccer expert Frank Cavallaro told me in all seriousness, "if they win I hear there will be a parade in downtown Montreal on Friday."
We are fortunate to have a team like the Impact in our midst. Ditto for the Alouettes. They both deserve our support. We already lost the Expos and I would not like to see soccer and football follow suit.
And folks, let's stop knocking the Big Owe. This city will much the worst without it.