Butler: A memorable atmosphere at Stade Saputo on Wednesday

Noel Butler
8/9/2013 4:08:41 PM
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Not sure if growing up in Rosario is similar to wet and windy Manchester, but Hernán Bernardello did not put a foot wrong in what was an imposing debut in an Impact shirt for the 27-year old Argentine.

His performance (with almighty weather for the Stade Saputo backdrop Wednesday evening) was one that anyone would associate with the rainforest.

It was a virtuoso man of the match performance if ever there was one - as 2008-2009's Cinderella team kicked off its 2013-14 tilt in the Champions League. A passing and checking clinic from Bernardello that the likes of Lou Lamoriello could only dream of.

However, it was the shade over 15,000 fans –sitting through the rain-lashed uncovered Impact terraces - I was most impressed with.

A raucous atmosphere it was, their sole and most united response as the rain made its appearance in sheets for an extended period.

On a far smaller scale, I defy anyone not to compare that extraordinary Stade Saputo atmosphere to a rain-sodden Barclays Premier League evening at Old Trafford.

I've been blessed to witness first-hand the might and majesty of Liverpool supporters celebrating victorious at a European Cup Final. Take a bow, UM02.

Ultras Montréal, formed in 2002 are the Impact's original supporter group. Not always on the same page with the club, they are still the most loyal, standing by through thick and thin.

On Wednesday, with each and every member seemingly soaked through to the skin, they reached a new higher ground.

"The rain has never stopped us before and it certainly would not stop us for such an important game," UM02's apokesperson told the morning after. "The rain always brings a special feeling in the kop, it seems to energize people when they see that the ultras will not give up and keep going 100 per cent."

The Ultras have wonderfully spawned superb new supporter groups at Saputo. What's that they say about imitation and flattery?

With the absence of significant travelling supporters making the journey to Montreal - save for Toronto FC - the combined banter that the Impact supporter groups provided added terrific value to the overall Stade Saputo experience on a given match day.

The proof of this was in the startled reaction of the casual Saputo visitors Wednesday night.

That, alongside the supporter groups in the West and South stand terraces or tucked away in a corporate loge (The Prawn Sandwich Brigade, as legendary Manchester United captain Roy Keane so eloquently described them once).
As events on the terraces unfolded Wednesday, I couldn't help but think back and affectionately reminisce about the Impact's previous Champions League campaign. Specifically, the final group stage home game against CD Olimpia played in late October 2008.

The 1-1 draw ensured the Impact safely emerged from the group with a game to spare but it was the weather that I won't forget. Nor the fantastic atmosphere generated on what should have been an invigorating fall evening.

Now growing up in England, I've witnessed some shocking blustery-type weather. But this was all together on a completely different level. Goal kicks into the wind seemed to cough up negative yardage and fool you for any attempted back passes.

This, though, was the calm after the storm that was the inaugural game played at Saputo back on Victoria Day of 2008.

The Whitecaps were the opponent that particular Monday afternoon, and with the Impact provoking for the move into MLS, commissioner Garber was in attendance.

For the Ultras, this is all part of the legacy they have carved out over their time.

"We've had memorable rain episodes in the past," said their spokesperson. "Most notably in the playoffs at Centre Claude-Robillard in 2006 I think, where it was just us and a few brave souls that decided to stay and join us, which made the kop instantly grow to over 125 people, which was huge and never seen at the time.

"Then the opening game at Saputo in 2008, which was the worst and something we hope to never have to go through ever again. We still have nightmares about that one. For sure, the rain is much more fun in July or August than in April or October but whatever the weather, we keep on giving our all."

Anyone who has witnessed it can certainly testify - UM02 most certainly do - it did in buckets Wednesday.

Someone who was there for that maiden Impact voyage in the Champions League - and now finds himself on the bench as Schällibaum's right hand man - is Mauro Biello.

Wednesday's atmosphere was not lost on the only player in the Impact's 20-year history to have his shirt retired.

"It was a great atmosphere last night," he said. "I remember back in 2008 during the qualifying rounds of Champions League, even though the crowds were smaller, they were loud and supportive. But last night was extra special because despite the pouring rain, no one left their seats and they were in the game."

Biello aptly concluding, "That's a sign of some passionate supporters. They are starting to get into the CONCACAF Champions League a little more and their support definitely helped us win the game."

Earlier this season, MLS Commissioner Don Garber was on the record as stating MLS will be amongst the top 10 leagues in world football within the decade.

To make this a reality, not only do we need to see vast improvements on the pitch, a greater consistency with our officials and an erosion of the single entity structure, but our football culture needs an injection along the same vein as the 'financial doping' (thanks, Arsene) that permeates certain parts of European club football.

An international brand and pedigree attached to the CONCACAF Champions League (and if we factor in that back in 1955 UEFA created the European Cup for one sole purpose) and staging an annual continental club competition that would be played in midweek under floodlights.

Following Wednesday's spectacle at Saputo, we might finally be onto something.

Hopefully, as the Impact look to break out of their current single MLS victory in seven-deepening malaise, long-time Impact equipment manager Aldo Ricci arranged for his staff to bottle Wednesday evening's atmosphere and pack it on board the their charter.

Destination Chicago for Saturday evening's rather critical Eastern Conference encounter.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:
@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

Noel Butler

Noel Butler

Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on You can follow him on Twitter at and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.


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