As the Best of 2012 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 12 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 19 until Dec. 30, when we unveil what our panel of 20 editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2012.
New media editor Andrew Wiebe keeps the countdown rolling at No. 7: the MLS debut of the Montreal Impact. While it was a topsy-turvy year in the league's newest market, one thing was clear above all others: It was a whole lot of fun following the Impact's first year on the MLS map.
Some scattered dysfunction may have pockmarked the Impact’s first season in MLS – the Brian Ching saga, Marco Di Vaio’s match-fixing accusations and Jesse Marsch’s hasty dismissal all come to mind – but from the very first kick at Olympic Stadium on March 18, it was clear Montreal was ready to embrace its team.
by Matt Besler
Chris Wondolowski ties the record
It’s definitely Wondo’s record-breaking season. We all watched the Portland game when he had the penalty kick and tied the record. It was such a great accomplishment for him and it was pretty unbelievable, the season that he had. He’s such a smart player, and he’s one of the best finishers in the league. He showed that all year long, and it was a fun season to follow his progress and follow that record.
When one of our colleagues is about to break a league record, you definitely follow it. We watched all season long, and he had some great highlights and games with hat tricks, all those multiple-goal games. It was enjoyable just to sit back and watch him score all of his goals.
When he was around 12, 13, 14, you’re looking at the record and you’re like, "There’s no way anyone is getting to 27." But the later the year got, the closer he got. We all knew he had a good chance and personally, I was glad to see he got the record. And even happier he didn’t get any against us.
On the Green Line, Montrealers in royal blue jerseys and scarves packed onto the Metro at each stop, second-division veterans and fresh-faced fans finding common ground under the MLS banner. Francophones and English speakers – some flip-flopping between the two tongues – mingled as the train rumbled toward the Pie-IX station, preparing for what would be a record-setting day in Quebec.
By the time the Metro cars emptied, dropping their occupants just a few hundred feet from the stadium’s doors, and the final fan packed into the circular concrete behemoth, the crowd numbered 58,912, a record showing for professional soccer in Quebec and an indication of the potential for MLS’ 19th franchise
And even though the Impact couldn’t manage to send their massive contingent home with three points against the Fire – Dominic Oduro’s strike canceled out Montreal captain Davy Arnaud’s 56th-minute opener – the stage was set for an expansion season that defied most expectations.
“It was unbelievable,” Arnaud said, long after the mobs of media had vacated the home team’s locker room. “They say there is going to be 50,000 or 60,000, but until you’re out there, you’re in it and you can’t hear each other, you don’t realize how special it was. It was a special day for the club, I think one that everyone in the city will remember.”
Of course, that festive, chilly Saturday afternoon in early March was just the start. There were plenty more memories to be made over the course of the summer and fall, including another historic opener at Stade Saputo.
This time, though, the Impact sent their fans home completely satisfied as they moved back into their much-improved old home. The stadium may not have been completely finished, an accelerated construction schedule eventually proving a bit too ambitious, but Marsch’s plucky side had no trouble dispatching the Sounders, 4-1, in the cozy confines of the 20,341-seater that effectively ushered in MLS 2.0 in Montreal.
“That’s the way you open a new stadium,” Marsch said afterward, an understatement to say the least.
And although the Impact started slow – five straight games without a win to begin the campaign – a late-summer run brought a potential playoff berth into focus, albeit briefly, only for the ensuing slide to hide it from view.
But even without a postseason berth to look forward to, there was plenty more to cherish for a fanbase that some predicted would be fickle and likely to abandon interest if success was fleeting or hockey returned. That sentiment, it turned out, proved incorrect.
Montreal’s own Patrice Bernier proved he had plenty left in the tank, Felipe established himself as one of the league’s most promising young attacking talents, Di Vaio arrived as the club’s first-ever Designated Player and a legend, Alessandro Nesta, put his stamp on the club.
No, Montreal didn’t make the playoffs, and some are skeptical about the direction of the club after Marsch was unceremoniously jettisoned ahead of the team’s postseason jaunt to Italy, but there’s plenty of hope to be had in Quebec.
Year One can’t be construed as anything other than a success. Now it’s just a matter of waiting to see what Year Two will bring.