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Butler: Bragging rights await Toronto FC and Impact

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Noel Butler
3/15/2013 4:29:07 PM
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Best known as the home of the Montreal Expos, Olympic Stadium has witnessed much since the 1976 Olympics. When he finally hangs up the microphone, Sir Mick Jagger can always claim he's played a gig at the very same venue Pope John Paul II once led a Youth Peace Rally from.

On Saturday, the building that rioted following a 1992 Guns and Roses concert that was cut short after singer Axl Rose left the stage less than an hour in will play host to MLS Rival Week.

Battle lines will be drawn in places like Texas, Los Angeles and the Pacific North West but with upwards of 5,000 red clad Toronto FC supporters descending on la belle ville, none are more eagerly anticipated as Saturday afternoon's encounter inside Olympic Stadium.

An atmosphere that will likely rival anything European soccer will witness this weekend has the additional element of it featuring the Eastern Conference leading Montreal Impact going up against a team that thoroughly outplayed and outmanoeuvred 2012's Eastern Conference Champions during a most impressive home opener for Toronto FC.

The Impact's perfect start to the season is reward for a pre-season training camp that was as intense as the immense performances the team displayed in Seattle and Portland.

When was the last time in world football that a club matched its road win output for the entirety of the previous season in the first two weeks of the following season?

Head coach Marco Schällibaum provided the much needed sense of prospective when following Thursday training, he told TSN.ca.

"It was 10 days together, a nice trip because we have six points after two games. It is not easy to win in Seattle and Portland," said Schällibaum.

"I'm very happy because we worked very hard for this moment and that is good. Starting with the six points is also very good for the confidence."

Schällibaum wouldn't divulge if he at all expected or planned for what seemed most improbable was actually achievable come the final whistle at Jeld-Wen Field last Saturday night.

"Normally the base for me is I'm very optimistic with my life so I started the trip with some ideas but I must say six points is very big points," he said. "But I know my team now also, it was very tough, strong on the field and we worked very much with the defense which is very important when you play away."

"Now on Saturday against Toronto we must go forward and we must also be strong in the offensive part."

Although in years to come supporters will always vividly recall the perfect start to the 2013 season - this week for the club has been all about fully preparing the players for Saturday afternoon's challenge.

To ensure a sense of complacency did not take root and instead his players are in the correct mind set, Schällibaum explained much has been done on the psychological aspect. 

"I just talked to the team this morning and explained we must be ready. In life you must confirm the nice things. We did so after Seattle and we reassured them again after Portland because when you are not 100 per cent on the field that makes it very difficult to win the game. The team is very professional. Psychologically, they are ready."

Not only will Saturday's encounter throw together two head coaches who are about to witness their very first Derby della 401, the match will be played on a brand new surface.
 
The Impact first took to the new pitch behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon. Thursday's training session lasted two hours and for those in attendance it was plainly obvious the players were doing the utmost to familiarize themselves with the unique peculiarities any football pitch offers.

"The turf is better than last year, that's the reality. It's a new turf so we have this attitude to play on this turf and we are ready to play a good game," Schällibaum said of the new pitch.

Having turned down an opportunity to train on it Friday, save for the pre-match warm up and walking out in their civvies when they arrive at Olympic Stadium, Toronto FC won't have the luxury of familiarizing themselves with the new surface.

When the question of why they wouldn't train at Olympic Stadium, head coach Ryan Nelsen cited logistical purposes when he spoke with TSN 690 Thursday evening.

"It was just logistical one more than anything that we couldn't do it," said Nelsen. "Obviously, would have liked to but we just couldn't."

The last time these two teams met at Olympic Stadium in MLS action, the Impact ran out 2-1 winners and in doing so recorded their maiden victory in MLS.

Although as expected, a quite sizeable contingent of the crowd that day back in April of last year was clad in red. Overall, the attendance of just over 23,000 was a big disappointment and the expected frenzied type atmosphere never fully materialized.  

Things will be a lot different Saturday afternoon.

Nelsen is astonished with the travelling support and fully appreciative they are descending on Montreal in their thousands.

"There's a huge amount of Toronto fans that are coming, which is amazing. They'll be just as loud as the home ones. It's going to be an absolute electric atmosphere. It's so good for the leagu,e it's two Canadian teams, this rivalry. It's really exciting and I think both teams just can't wait for the game."

Schällibaum, having only watched film and spoke to his players about what Olympic Stadium offers, is looking forward to soaking up the wall of sound that is sure to emanate.

"I think it will have a great ambiance. It is a stadium with lots of tradition and also will be full with supporters that will help us because the players they need this help."

The vocal battle on the terraces that even Simon Cowell would have difficulty separating a winner from a loser from will most certainly add to this particular football occasion.

At the end of the day, though, the only meaningful statistic will be which team emerges the winner down on the pitch.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel

Montreal Impact Vs Toronto FC live from Olympic Stadium airs live on TSN this Saturday afternoon, with coverage kicking off at 4:00pm et/1:00pm pt

Olympic Stadium (Photo: MLB Photos/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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(Photo: MLB Photos/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
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