Why the Montreal Impact will start the Eastern Conference final at the Big O

My first reaction was “Why?”

“Saputo Stadium is great. Why play anywhere else?” 

Minutes after the Montreal Impact stunned the New York Red Bull in their own building, head coach Mauro Biello wrapped his post-game news conference, and it was announced that Montreal’s Olympic Stadium — not Saputo  — would host leg one of the MLS Eastern Conference final.

I had to double-check what I just heard.

“Did you just say Olympic Stadium?” I asked aloud.

A New York-based reporter jumped in before the Impact’s PR representative could respond.

“Well, yeah. It’s too cold to be outside.”

Call me a burly chested Canadian if you must, but “too cold” never crossed my mind. This is November we’re talking about here, not January.

Ask anyone who played sports in grade school or high school, and they’ll tell you that championships are often won or lost outdoors on a brisk November day.

Playing for a title when you can see your breath is as Canadian as poutine.

The team confirmed that “cold” and “snow” are two of the reasons why the game would be played under the roof of the Olympic Stadium.

Snow day

But if snow is the concern, moving to Olympic Stadium isn’t much of an upgrade over Saputo.

Sure, removing snow from a grass pitch is problematic.

But the Olympic Stadium’s roof is beyond repair, subject to shredding, and if more than a few centimetres of snow accumulates on it, events have to be cancelled because of the real threat it could cave in.

The risk of snow is why the Alouettes ended their tradition of hosting playoff games at the Olympic Stadium in 2013 and committed to remain at McGill’s Percival Molson Stadium.

Snow puts a stop to any event at the Olympic Stadium in a hurry.

Add to this that eight days later, Toronto FC  are hosting the return leg of this series outdoors, and snow or cold doesn’t appear to be a concern on their side, and it’s quite clear Montreal could have hosted the game at Saputo but chose not to.

olympic stadium tower

The Olympic Stadium cancels events if there’s more than a few centimetres of snow in the forecast, because of the risk its decaying roof could rip from the weight or collapse. (Radio-Canada)

Artificial turf

When the game kicks off on Nov. 22, the players will be warm, and there won’t be any snow on the field to navigate.

But the playing surface won’t be the familiar blades of actual grass at Saputo Stadium, it will be artificial turf spread onto a big slab of concrete.

Few players look forward to practising or playing on the turf, and some flat out refuse.

Didier Drogba is the most recent star to sit out the games scheduled at the Big O. Thierry Henry always took a pass when his team came to town.

Of course, most players don’t have enough star power to say no, and coming into this game you won’t hear any complaints.

With a match as big as the Eastern Conference final, many players would play on gravel if they had to.

But you’d be hard pressed to find someone tell you they prefer the turf to grass.

Home field advantage

Saputo Stadium is not only a more agreeable playing surface, but it is also a really great place to watch a game.

There isn’t a bad seat in the building, and the fans are right on top of the action.

The most passionate supporters — those who occupy the seats behind the goals on both the east and west sides — are close enough to rattle opposing goalkeepers.

Fans are farther back from the pitch at the Olympic Stadium.

However, the Impact does start every season with a few home games at the Olympic Stadium, and as recently as April 2015, they turned it into “fortress Montreal” for CONCACAF Champion League.

Game of numbers

The great advantage to playing at the Olympic Stadium is that close to 60,000 fans can pack into the building to see the game.

That’s nearly three times the number that could watch it at Saputo Stadium.

And for all its faults, the Olympic Stadium is a loud and exciting arena when it’s full.

The sound tends to bounce off the walls, echoing back at twice its original decibel level, and when the fans start using the yellow seats as clappers, you’ll be left with a dull humming in your ears for the next 24 hours.

The stage is set for a memorable event, and the Olympic Stadium does offer more Montrealers a chance to see it.

It’s hard to be against that.  

TFC-Impact

Toronto FC and Montreal Impact will write a new chapter to their heated rivalry when the two teams square off in the Eastern Conference Finals. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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