MONTREAL – Before the first ball was kicked in the Impact’s home opener at Olympic Stadium on Saturday, the focus was already squarely on the record-breaking crowd that filled the concrete bowels of Montreal’s most iconic venue.
During the pregame festivities, Eddie Sebrango, an Impact legend in his own right, made his way to midfield and literally had the No. 12 ripped off his back. It was a symbolic moment, one that revealed a new jersey number, 16, and bequeathed his former digits to the multitude that packed the Big O’s cavernous confines.
On Saturday afternoon, the Impact’s new No. 12 came by metro, the Green line bringing them literally to the doorstep of the stadium. They came by car. Most of all, they just came.
FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
One by one, 58,912 fans, a new record for professional soccer in Quebec, packed Olympic Stadium for the first-ever MLS game in Montreal, providing the fuel for an epic, jubilant atmosphere and officially earning the enormous jersey next to the scoreboard that commemorated Sebrango’s sacrifice.
Simply put, they made the occasion unforgettable, yet another golden moment for professional soccer in Canada during a period of many, even if their hometown club let a second-half lead go to waste, settling for a point and a 1-1 draw.
“It was unbelievable,” said Impact captain Davy Arnaud, who scored the club’s first-ever home goal. “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.”
And how could they not?
For most of 50 minutes, the Impact looked odds-on to take the three points their fans came to see them fight for. The Big O hummed with energy, noise reverberating off the concrete walls and making it difficult to make out much of anything at times.
Then they flashed the attendance on the scoreboard, the numbers 58,912 positioned, fittingly, next to the No. 12 jersey that paid homage to the people responsible for breaking the record.
The timing of the announcement was almost poetic. Just moments later, Arnaud rose to nod Sanna Nyassi’s pinpoint cross inside the back post. The place went delirious, no one more riled up than the Ultras Montréal, who were in perfect position behind the goal to see the play develop.
Celebrating their 10th anniversary of existence, the Ultras bounced, sang and waved their flags for the better part of 90 minutes, popping blue and white smoke bombs when Arnaud’s header met side netting and orchestrating an impressive tifo display before the opening whistle.
WATCH: Arnaud scores historic goal
For MLS fans scattered across the US and Canada, the magnitude of it all might have come as a shock. But not backup goalkeeper Greg Sutton. Even Friday, he had an idea about what to expect.
“I can’t say I was surprised,” said Sutton, who spent five years of his career tending net for the lower-division Impact. “Some of these fans are some of the best in North America. They come out to support teams that are in the city of Montreal.”
They proved as much on Saturday. And when Josh Gardner let rip a left-footed laser beam that appeared destined for the top corner, it seemed fate might intervene, turning an encouraging 1-1 draw into a legendary victory and sending No. 12 home with their first scalp.
But, alas, it was not to be. The post did its job, and Montreal settled for the draw, the nearly 60,000 faithful spilling out into the crisp night air, still buzzing from their first 90 minutes at home as an MLS club.
“It was fantastic,” Sutton said. “Hopefully, we can continue getting those fans every game and create something pretty cool here in Montreal.”
If game one is any indication, hope won’t be necessary.