VANCOUVER, B.C. – Fourteen years ago. That was the last time an expansion team made its MLS debut on the road and emerged with a victory.
In March of 1998, the Chicago Fire prevailed 2-0 over fellow newbies Miami Fusion at Lockhart Stadium. And no MLS expansion team has repeated the feat since.
But the Montreal Impact, the latest entrants to the league, may have some history on their side as they face a daunting challenge at Vancouver on Saturday (6 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in the US). Their own head coach, Jesse Marsch, played in that game in Fort Lauderdale more than a decade ago as a second-half sub for Bob Bradley’s Fire side.
WATCH: Marsch, Arnaud, Braun set for debut
Any old wisdom to impart on your troops, Jesse?
“I’m not going to be a sub tomorrow, I know that much,” Marsch joked to reporters at BC Place on Friday.
Though the Impact have been training for nearly two months across three different countries and against 12 different opponents in various leagues, Marsch admits his team isn’t yet the final product. But their time together this preseason has shown their character as they get set to make their long-awaited MLS debut.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of our personality and our traits and who we are tomorrow,” Marsch said. “We’re going to have to continue to push ourselves along and get sharper and better, but all through preseason, one of the things I’ve been most pleased about is the fact that we look like a team. We look like what we want to look like and there’s consistency from every game in terms of now the identity of who we are.”
What won’t be easy is opening their MLS history on the road at old rivals Vancouver. The bad blood between the Impact and the Whitecaps stretches back nearly 20 years, and Marsch’s players are prepared for a rude reception from the ‘Caps faithful.
“These are the types of environments you like to play in as a player,” said forward Justin Braun of what’s expected to be a crowd of more than 21,000 at BC Place. “This is what you look forward to. This is what every stadium should be.”
And though it may be a trial by fire for the Impact, team captain Davy Arnaud expects the unfriendly crowd to be a good litmus test for the first-year side.
“We know it’s going to be tough right off the bat, but it’s going to be good for us,” he said. “I think we’ve prepared well and you’ve got to play these games and see where you’re at, and we’re looking forward to it.”
And ultimately, all that long preparation work will culminate at least with the official beginning, at last, of Montreal Impact football in Major League Soccer.
“Excited, man,” grinned Arnaud. “I think we’re all excited. … We’re ready to get it started.”