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Saputo's "second child" finally all grown up in Montreal

It has already been quite a ride. Now, though, is the time to crest the next hill.

After years of waiting for first division soccer, Montrealers will at long last experience MLS from a supporter’s point of view as the Montreal Impact take on the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday (6 pm ET; TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in US).

The opening whistle should be one of the most memorable moments in club history, nearly 20 years after its inaugural season in the American Professional Soccer League.

“It’s like your second child being born,” Impact president Joey Saputo told Radio-Canada. “The Impact which came to life in 1993 could be described as the first-born, and 18 years later, we decided to have another: the MLS version of the club.”

Fans who watched the first child grow will recognize it has come a long way since its birth. After a crisis that nearly spelled the end of the Montreal Impact at the turn of this century, the club now looks in sound shape as it is set to join the premier soccer league in North America.

What they might not know is that the Impact’s debut in MLS could have happened in much different circumstances – for better or for worse, as the aforementioned crisis indicates.

“There was a possibility to enter MLS back in 1996,” sporting director Nick De Santis told Montreal newspaper La Presse, “but Joey Saputo and his family took a wise decision by waiting and seeing what direction the league would take.”

The story is old news, now: After contraction a decade back, the direction has been “ever upward.” Major League Soccer is more stable than it has ever been, and the Montreal Impact, very much alive, have become the league’s 19th franchise.

They’ll catch up with their old rivals in Vancouver for First Kick 2012. And when reporters asked Jesse Marsch if he’d had enough time to prepare his team for this game, the philosopher in him remarked that he did not know “that you ever feel ready for the season to start.”

Ask Montreal Impact fans the same question, and the answer would certainly be much different. They feel they have been waiting long enough.

GET TICKETS to Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Montreal Impact, Saturday, March 10, 2012, 6 pm ET at BC Place. Watch on TSN/RDS in Canada or MLS LIVE in the United States.