Impact set to christen Saputo Stadium - Montreal Gazette


Pat Hickey

MONTREAL -- The new Saputo Stadium will be in the spotlight Monday afternoon but Montreal Impact coach Nick De Santis hops that his team will earn a share of the top billing.

"We have to prove that we can win at home," De Santis said during an activity-filled weekend leading up to Monday's inaugural game at the new stadium between the Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps. "In fact, in the position we've put ourselves in, we have to win at home."

The Impact finished the longest season-opening road trip in the team's history with a 2-4-0 record.

It would be easy to blame the slow start on injuries. Two starting defenders - Nevio Pizzolitto and iron man Gabriel Gervais - are both on the sidelines. But De Santis said Stefano Pesoli and Cedric Joqueviel have done a good job of filling on the back row.

"Our biggest problem is that we haven't been able to finish," said De Santis. "Our game is to control the ball and we've had opportunities to score but we've lacked that finishing touch."

That's reflected in the team's record. The Impact has been shut out in three of its six starts, including its last two games. The team has gone 187 minutes since Joey Gjertsen scored its last goal in a 1-0 win in Puerto Rico.

The Impact are hoping to get a lift from the crowd as it christens its new digs today. The team announced Saturday that all 13,034 tickets for today's game have been sold.

In the past, there have been concerns that the teams gets away from its solid defensive style when it plays at home because it wants to put on a show for the fans.

"I don't know if that's true," said De Santis. "I think the one thing that will make the fans happy is if we come away with a victory."

The Whitecaps present a formidable challenge. They defeated the Impact 1-0 in the season opener for both clubs in Burnaby, B.C., and are off to a strong start in the United Soccer Leagues First Division. Vancouver has a 3-1-0 record and also boasts an impressive 2-1 exhibition win over David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

The much-anticipated opening of the new stadium has presented an additional challenge for De Santis and his players.

"There have been some distractions because of the stadium opening but we've been focused in our training," said De Santis.

The team held a reception and autograph session for VIPs on Saturday and Sunday there was an open house which featured tours of the facility and a celebrity game.

About 5,000 fans were on hand to watch Montreal Canadiens' star Alex Kovalev give a few lessons in finishing. Kovalev, who is a good friend of Impact striker Charles Gbeke, scored three goals and was a prime target for autograph seekers after the game.

And Kim St. Pierre, who is better known for stopping shots as the goaltender for Canada's Olympic gold medal-winning women's hockey team, displayed an offensive flare as she scored two goals.

Montreal Gazette