Thursday, May 30, 2019

Real Salt Lake 1 at Montreal Impact 2 (MLS) - May 29, 2019


It has been over a month since my last sports trip, the longest such interruption since I moved to the US in 2013. Sadly, I'm running out of stadiums that are worth traveling to, in North America at least. I just can't justify the cost of a flight to Columbus to see Crew of the MLS, or a flight to Toledo to see the Walleye of the ECHL. Even a weekend trip that had both at home would probably not be compelling enough to shell out the cash for a flight, hotel, and rental car. Once on the road, pretty much any sporting event is worth a visit, but getting there in the first place requires something worth the trouble.



Fortunately, I did have such a reason to visit Montreal this past Wednesday, namely my Nexus interview. I chose that date because the Montreal Impact of the MLS were hosting Real Salt Lake that evening, so I could add Stade Saputo to my small list of MLS venues visited.



The flight is less than an hour, and as we dropped beneath the clouds, I noticed the stadium out the window and was able to capture a couple of good shots of it along with the Olympic Stadium right next door. I always love seeing a venue from the air, especially when I will be seeing a game there later that day. In the view above, you can really see the path that separates the north stand (right side) from the rest of the structure.



With an early flight back the next morning, I stayed near the airport and had to take public transit across the city to get to the stadium. Thankfully, Montreal's transit system is a lot more reliable than the one in NYC, and it took about an hour on an express bus and the subway to reach Viau station, from where Stade Saputo is a short walk.



The Impact is another one of those teams to have "gone mobile" but there were plenty of hard tickets available from scalpers. I picked up one for $30 that had me in the north side facing the top of the box. Face value for this was $85, a bit too much for this league, but the Impact still draw quite well as there are many cheaper tickets available. My view is below.



Upon entering through the south entrance, I noticed a display that described some of their all-time greats.



The Impact has been in the MLS since 2012, but a team with the same name played in lower-level leagues from 1992 and did win a league title and a playoff championship in those years. In 2015, they lost the CONCACAF Champions League final to a Mexican team, presaging Toronto's similar defeat last year.



The concourse is really an open area underneath the south stands. There were a number of stalls with video games and other entertainment, but I was focused on food.



Fare here can be quite affordable, and there was a new addition this month, namely four grilled cheese sandwiches, each named after a different player. For example, the Evan Bush contains mozzarella cheese, pickles, mustard in hot-dog style bread, while the Samuel Piette included smoked meat, gouda, and mustard and was quite tasty, especially with a dab of mayo. I picked up one of each and the total was $9.25, a good deal for a stadium. As the sandwiches were pre-cooked, they were not as good as they could be, but still a nice change from the usual hot dog and pretzel. Beer was available but at $11 for a can of Bud, too much for me.



I then took several shots from various points in the seating bowl. That's the west stand above, where one of the main supporters groups, Ultras Montreal (UM02) sit.



It was a beautiful evening with the sun shining onto the south and west stands, though it had set by the time the match started. There are no ushers to check tickets, so you can pretty much just sit where you want. Below you can see the Olympic Tower in the distance behind the west stand.



The north stand has a pattern in the seats that looks to be two eyes looking up at the sky.



The south stand is all blue and quite attractive in the sunshine.



Below is the east stand, where the 1642MTL supporters group sits.



In front of them is a large bell, known as The North Star, which is rung after goals and victories. Weighing nearly a ton, it can be moved to Olympic Stadium when the Impact plays there, though it must be hard work indeed. You can kind of make out The North Star if you enlarge the photo below; it is directly behind the goal.



The panorama shot below captures the entire stadium from midfield in the north stand.



The seat I had was near the spot where the players entered. Kids lined up across from each other to create a makeshift tunnel for the procession onto the field.



The Ultras were also nearby and set off a bit of smoke as the match got underway. Nothing like what you see in some European soccer stadiums, but avoid the upper rows of Section 132 if you have respiratory difficulties.



The match was a typical MLS affair: a few chances, one or two moments of brilliance, but lots of sloppy play and possession given away too easily. Montreal started strongly and Saphir Taider hit the crossbar in the first minute. A minute later and a free kick from the left side of the box was parried by RSL keeper Nick Rimando, who holds the MLS records for career shutouts, wins, saves, and appearances. At 39, he is the oldest player in the league, but will retire after this season.

Montreal kept up the attack but could not score and the game settled into a lot of midfield play. RSL managed a single weak shot on Evan Bush, and it looked like halftime would arrive scoreless. But as the second minute of stoppage time wound down, Shamit Shome found Omar Browne with a back pass and Browne calmly slotted past a frustrated Rimando as the clock hit 47 minutes exactly. It might not have counted in hockey, but it did here and Montreal had the 1-0 lead at the half.

Early in the second period, Bacary Sagna broke in for Montreal and was hauled down by Donny Toia, an obvious penalty. Taider made no mistake from the spot and the Impact was up 2-0. It seemed like they felt that was enough and they relaxed, allowing RSL a few chances, one of which found the back of the net off the head of Sam Johnson. The final 10 minutes were more nerve-wracking then they should have been, but the Impact managed to prevent another goal, winning 2-1 and grabbing all 3 points.

Notes

This was my 10th MLS venue (8th active). With 24 teams in the league and at least 3 more to come, this is the biggest league left to see, but I just can't get excited about an MLS road trip.

Next Up

I'm off to North Carolina this weekend to add one of the new minor league parks to my list, named Segra Stadium in Fayetteville, NC. There are also some College World Series games going on in the area, so I hope to visit a couple of those venues as well. Check back next week for recaps.

Best

Sean