Chill the Boréale and pour the gravy on the poutine. Montreal is officially a Major League Soccer city.
After months of negotiations, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced in Montreal on Friday that Canada’s second-largest city will become home to the league’s 19th franchise, to begin play in the 2012 season.
“We are proud to welcome Montreal, the second-largest French-speaking city in the world and a multicultural metropolis whose residents are deeply passionate about the world’s game, to Major League Soccer,” Garber said Friday.
Joey Saputo, owner of the USSF D2 Montreal Impact, will also assume ownership of the expansion team, which will play at a newly renovated Saputo Stadium. The natural-grass venue will undergo approximately US$22 million in expansion to accommodate crowds of 20,000, some 7,000 more than its current capacity.
Additionally, the new team will play a select number of games at nearby Olympic Stadium, the 66,000-seat venue that once was home to the Montreal Expos.
"I've always said this is no longer a question of 'if,' but of 'when,'" Saputo said. "I can finally say 'when' is here, and it's about time. ... The arrival of MLS in Montreal is nothing short of a revolution for our city and our soccer fans."
Montreal becomes the third Canadian team in MLS, following on the heels of Toronto FC in 2007 and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who will join the league in 2011.
The addition of Montreal has been in discussion for more than a year, and whispers grew especially loud when 55,571 fans packed Olympic Stadium in February of last year to see the Impact defeat Santos Laguna of Mexico 2-0 in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match.
"I believe the structure we already have in place—the support, the fans, the stadium, the following—will allow us to hit the gound running in 2012," Saputo said. "Just like we intend to compete on the field with the best clubs in MLS, we know that our fans will compete in the stands with the likes of Seattle or Toronto."
Montreal has a long history of supporting the beautiful game and was home to two separate NASL franchises in the 1970s and ‘80s. The Saputo family has been involved in the sport since that era, as a sponsor of the defunct Montreal Manic. The Saputos were also the original founders of the Impact in 1993.
“After 17 history-making years, our team and sport have reached a new summit today,” Saputo said. “Our team has evolved and our sport is now major. As a Montrealer, I am extremely proud of the acquisition of an MLS franchise. This is what Montreal deserved: a great league within a great city.”