The current iteration of Montreal Impact joined Major League Soccer for the 2012 season two decades after Canadian businessman Joey Saputo founded the original club.
In 1994, his side became the United States and Canada’s de facto champion by winning the American Professional Soccer League. Two further championships were added in 2004 and 2009 in what was then the second-tier United Soccer Leagues First Division.
Montreal native Mauro Biello led the Impact in appearances and goals during two stints and 11 seasons with the team. Biello served as the MLS franchise’s assistant coach from its founding until being elevated to the top job on an interim basis in August 2015.
Saputo’s Sicilian father, Emanuele, was one of the world’s wealthiest men in the 1990s, turning the family dairy company into a publicly traded multinational business.
Strong financial backing allied with that Italian heritage has helped Montreal lure some high-profile names to Quebec in recent years.
Striker Marco Di Vaio became the Impact’s first designated player during its debut season and the former Italian international was soon joined by Azzurri and A.C. Milan legend Alessandro Nesta.
Montreal’s home MLS opener attracted 58,912 fans to the city’s Stade Olympique. The Los Angeles Galaxy’s visit two months later drew a then Canadian professional soccer record of 60,860 to the same venue. The Impact moved across the Olympic park into its refurbished 20,801-seat Stade Saputo midway through its first campaign.
An away-goals victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the 2013 Canadian Championship final brought the new Impact its first major trophy and qualification for the 2013-2014 CONCACAF Champions League. Montreal retained its Canadian title the following year before embarking on a run to the continental final where it fell 5-3 on aggregate to storied Mexican side Club América.
Two-time English Premier League Golden Boot winner Didier Drogba became Montreal’s biggest signing to date when he joined the franchise in July 2015. The Ivorian netted a hat trick against the Chicago Fire in his first start for his new club and finished the regular season with 11 goals in 11 games to catapult the Impact into the playoffs.
Drogba added the final touch to a satisfying 3-0 win in the 401 Derby against archrival Toronto, setting up an Eastern Conference semifinal clash with Columbus Crew. With the aggregate score tied at 3-3, the season turned on the last minutes of extra time, Kei Kamara scoring for Columbus, Ignacio Piatti missing a golden chance for Impact.
Piatti made amends with 17 goals in the regular season in 2016, Drogba (at 38!) bagging 11. With three more from Piatti, Impact overcame D.C. United and New York Red Bulls to set up another enticing 401 Derby with Toronto in the Conference Final.
For major games, such as the November 2016 Conference Final with Toronto, as well during the bleak start to the soccer season, the club switches from its regular Stade Saputo to the huge bowl of the Stade Olympique.
Both are located within Montreal’s Parc Olympique district about five miles north of the city centre. The area contains many of the venues used during the 1976 Summer Olympics.
Nicknamed both the Big O, due to its roof (hence winter use), and the Big Owe because of its astronomical cost, the Stade Olympique is gradually seeing more soccer use.
It was here in 1976 that East Germany won its only major honor. A 3-1 win over Kazimierz Deyna’s Poland earned the GDR the Olympic gold, in front of 71,617.
Widely considered a white elephant thereafter, Roger Taillibert’s space-age arena has seen 50,000-plus crowds for the 2007 U-20 World Cup, the Women’s World Cup semifinal between USA and Germany in 2015 and its capacity of 61,004 reached with Impact’s CONCACAF Champions League Final with Club América that same year.
For the regular season at the nearby Saputo, Impact attracts attendances of around 20,000, again close to capacity.
The original 13,000-seat Saputo soccer stadium opened in 2008 at a cost of $17 million. Quebec’s government steered an additional $23 million in funding toward the facility to enable the Impact to make the expansion adjustments necessary for MLS.
Stade Saputo features a natural grass field. Montreal’s professional and Academy teams train on a synthetic field bordering the stadium.
The city’s métro system offers a convenient and relaxing commute to the Parc Olympique. Jump on the Green Line toward Honoré-Beaugrand from downtown stations and alight at Pie-IX or Viau for a short stroll to either stadium. A one-trip ticket costs CA$3.25 and the journey will take about 15 minutes.
Montreal also ranks as one of the world’s great biking cities with over 400 miles of cycling paths and lanes stretching well into the suburbs. Its Bixi bike system allows unlimited 30-minute rides for CA$5 per day, 24 hours a day from April to November.
Designated cycle lanes running along Boulevard René-Lévesque to Rue Notre-Dame and along Rue Rachel head north toward Parc Olympique from downtown. Bear in mind though that the ‘Mont’ in Montreal hints at rolling terrain that can be challenging on a heavy three-speed bike.
With such a convenient métro system and excellent cycle access too, it makes little sense to bring a car to the Parc Olympique area. If you must, there are almost 4,000 indoor parking spaces, mainly lining Avenue Pierre De Coubertin alongside the Stade Olympique but they come at a price of CA$20/day.
For the Saputo, parking zone P5 (320 spaces) is the nearest, address 3200 Viau.
Tickets are distributed online through Ticketpro (contact 1 866 908-9090). The club office is 514-328-3668.
For big matches at the Stade Olympique, the best seats are in the Bleus sections on the long sides, in the CA$100-CA$120 range. Verts (Green) and Bleus Ciels (Sky Blue) nearer the corners are CA$60-CA$75. General admission for Impact supporters in sectors 101-108 behind one goal and 159 behind the other is CA$40. Note that there are also standing places at CA$30.
Visiting supporters are allocated a block of odd-numbered sections in one corner diagonally opposite the home end, 147-151, 257-263 and 369-377, with its own entrance.
Note that for regular matches at the Stade Olympique, prices drop to the same as for the Saputo. There, as well as online, tickets are usually available from the guichets on match days – but Impact was close to 20,801 capacity for most of 2016.
The best seats are the Bleus in the Tribunes Nord and Sud, CA$62-CA$82. Nearer the corner flags, in the Bleus Ciels, prices are CA$35.
Impact fans (CA$25) occupy the Supporters’ Sector (131, 132) behind the West goal, Tribune Ouest, and 114 behind the opposite Tribune Est. To one corner, nearest the Tribune Nord, visiting fans are allocated sector 112.
The Montreal Impact Boutique store on the south side of Stade Saputo is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. as well as on game days.
Replica jerseys cost about CA$100 with hats, scarves and iPhone covers retailing at about CA$25.
Le Trèfle in the up-and-coming Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhood offers a hospitable pregame drinking spot within a 15-minute walk of Parc Olympique. This Irish-themed bar carries an extensive range of Belgian beers as well as offerings from European microbrewers such as Denmark’s Mikkeller and Scotland’s BrewDog. HD screens broadcast sports.
Further afield in the recently gentrified Saint-Henri neighborhood is the Burgundy Lion. This traditional British pub carries the largest collection of whiskies in Quebec with over 400 labels and serves up pub grub with a French-Canadian twist. Foreign beers including Boddingtons, Newcastle Brown, Stella Artois and Sapporo are on tap for about CA$8.50 per pint. Again, plenty of sports on TV.
Montreal’s Downtown area includes numerous drinking options tucked away in the streets crossing Rue Saint-Catherine. Irish Embassy on Rue Bishop, the Sir Winston Churchill Pub on Rue Crescent and Peel Pub with its Lion Rampant logo, overlooked by a statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns on Dorchester Square, are all kitted out with multiple TV screens for sports watching.
1911 The Province of Quebec Football Association formed in Montreal.
1961 Montreal Concordia takes part in the second International Soccer League tournament organized by American sports entrepreneur Bill Cox. The team compiles a respectable record of five wins, four draws and five defeats against European and South American opposition. Humberto Gambaro notches two goals in a notable 3-1 win over A.S. Monaco at Montreal’s Molson Stadium. Concordia also provides the only blemish on Dukla Prague’s otherwise perfect tournament record with a plucky draw against the Czechoslovakian league and cup champions.
1971 Montreal Olympique joins the North American Soccer League as one of three expansion teams alongside the New York Cosmos and Canadian rival the Toronto Metros. Olympique plays its games at the Autostade built for the Expo 67 World’s Fair. Montreal finishes bottom of the eight-team standings with four wins in 24 games.
1972 Scottish teenager Graeme Souness helps Montreal climb off the bottom of the NASL standings with two goals and two assists during a ten-game loan spell from Tottenham Hotspur. Souness is selected for the NASL All-Star Team although Olympique misses the playoffs again.
1973 The Olympique folds after a third straight year with significantly more losses than wins.
1976 Soccer’s potential in Montreal is underlined when 71,617 fans watch East Germany defeat Poland by 3-1 in the Olympic final at Stade Olympique.
1978 Montreal Castors wins Canada’s National Soccer League in the club’s third season. The Castors retains the title the following year before owner Tony Iammatteo folds the club after struggling to attract crowds above one thousand.
1981 Montreal regains an NASL franchise when the Philadelphia Fury is relocated northward to become Montreal Manic. Average crowds at Stade Olympique approach 24,000 as former New York Cosmos head coach Eddie Firmani leads the franchise to the playoff quarterfinals.
1983 The Manic ousts the New York Cosmos from the NASL playoffs before a semifinal defeat to Tulsa Roughnecks prevents a first all-Canadian Soccer Bowl game against the Toronto Blizzard. Tulsa beats Toronto 2-0 in the final. Montreal folds at the end of the year. President Roger Samson cites poor stadium and television deals as major reasons behind the franchise’s financial struggles.
1988 Professional soccer returns to the City of Saints as Montreal Supra enters the nationwide Canadian Soccer League for the tournament’s second season. The expansion side finishes last in the five-team Eastern Division with eight wins in 28 games.
1992 The Supra is dissolved at the end of what proves to be the CSL’s final season.
1993 Joey Saputo’s Montreal Impact begins play in the American Professional Soccer League with many former Supra players joining the new organization. Former Manic head coach Eddie Firmani leads the team as Montreal’s teenage defender Jason de Vos earns the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
1994 Jean Harbor’s goal gives Montreal Impact a 1-0 win over the Colorado Foxes in the American Professional Soccer League championship game watched by 8,169 fans at Montreal’s Complexe Sportif Claude-Robillard.
1997 Montreal wins its third straight regular season title before being defeated in the end-of-season playoffs. Crowds settle at about the 5,000 mark.
2004 A record home crowd of 13,648 watches the Impact claim its second championship with a 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in the United Soccer Leagues A-League final.
2008 Stade Saputo opens. Montreal Impact participates in the first edition of the CONCACAF Champions League tournament and qualifies from its opening group.
2009 Two goals from Cuban forward Eduardo Sebrango give the Impact a 2-0 win over Mexico’s Santos Laguna in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. A crowd of 55,571 watches the game at Stade Olympique. Montreal extends its aggregate lead to 4-1 in Torreón before conceding four second-half goals, including two in stoppage time, to exit the tournament. A third league championship is secured with a 6-3 aggregate win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the USL final.
2011 Montreal leaves the USL to join the recreated North American Soccer League for one season.
2012 Montreal becomes the 19th franchise in Major League Soccer.