MONTREAL — The Olympic Stadium, which has never been immensely popular among Montrealers, appears to have won new fans: the team that will call it home this weekend.
Impact players and coaches are talking about the venue for their home opener against the Chicago Fire on Saturday with a touch of wonder in their voices, and they intend to make the most of a crowd which could be close to 60,000 (2 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in US).
“It’s the Olympic Stadium, and my memories of it are not soccer-related,” Montreal native and 32-year-old Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier explained. “But to be here at home with over 50,000 fans, which is rare in North America, and with possibly some people chanting my name, it’s going to be special.”
WATCH: Marsch excited for home opener
Also impressed by the teams surroundings for the home opener, head coach Jesse Marsch compared the Olympic Stadium to another venue local fans have voiced concern over in the past: RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
“The layout, how the stands look, how old it is; they play baseball games in RFK, so the stadium can be configured in certain ways,” Marsch told reporters on Thursday, his head tilted up like a child in awe. “The first time I came in here, I thought of RFK right away. The difference is the roof; how everything is kept inside, the noise.”
While the noisy crowd could lead Jesse Marsch to be wary of miscommunication on the pitch, the Montreal boss sounded confident his players can win the game on their own.
“We’ve talked about how the team will deal with all the noise,” Marsch said. “We’ve tried to create a full awareness of our team and how we do things, because there won’t be a chance to communicate that much on the field. Maybe it’s good for them, because they won’t hear me from the bench,” Marsch said with a wry smile on his face.
For Impact goalkeeper Greg Sutton, it will be a proud moment as a Canadian to walk into the famous stadium and see it packed on Saturday afternoon.
“If someone told me they we’re going to have 150,000 fans in three venues in a week, I probably would have laughed in your face 10 years ago,” Sutton said.
And the 34-year-old native of Hamilton, Ontario, who has spent several spells with various MLS sides over the years, believes the sky is the limit for the future of Canadian soccer.
“It’s come a long way,” Sutton said. “It means a lot to someone like myself, who was born in Canada and now to see such a great thing happening here with soccer.”