The city of Montréal is a soccer city. Joey Saputo might occasionally doubt the commitment of the people of Montréal, but if you look at the numbers, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. We consistently have the biggest crowds, the best performing teams and the most championships. Below are the top 5 crowds in Montréal history, and how they stack up against other Canadian crowds.
1981 - Montréal Manic
In 1981, in the now defunct North American Soccer League (NASL), the Montréal Manic were out to make history. In a rare playoff appearance, the fledgling franchise would pack 58, 542 into Stade Olympique. In 1981, this was a Canadian record for largest crowd at a soccer game, surpassing even the Montréal Olympic Games. The record would be broken by Vancouver in 1983 by the Whitecaps with a crowd of 60,342 - a record they would hold until 2012. The legacy of the Montréal Manic, who were sponsored by Saputo, would lead Joey Saputo to found L'Impact de Montréal. While it would take close to 15 years for another attendance record, it was this monumental crowd that kick started professional soccer in la belle province.
March 2009 - Champions League Quarter-Finals
One of the most important matches in Impact history, and a record for Canadian soccer clubs, came in March of 2009. The Impact, after their historic Voyageurs Cup win in 2008 would advance into the CONCACAF Champions League, where they would play in the quarter finals against Mexican giants Santos Laguna. The Impact would host the giants in the first leg of the tournament, and in front of 55,571 fans at Stade Olympique the Impact felled the giants 2-0. That crowd, at the time, was a record in the CONCACAF Champions League.
March 2012 - MLS Debut
In March 2012, the Impact opened their account in MLS with a crowd of 58,542 and a 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire. This crowd was one of the largest in MLS at the time, and showed the world that Montréal could compete with the best clubs on the continent in terms of impact and prestige.
May 2012 - David Beckham (and Los Angeles) Come to Montréal
In May 2012, barely one month after the historic home-opener and first game in MLS, the Impact once again made history with a record-breaking crowd of 60,860 against Los Angeles. This was, at the time, the highest attendance for a soccer match in Canada. Much of the hype surrounding the game was targeted at David Beckham and whether or not he would play on turf. It was this match, in my opinion, that proved the relevancy of the designated player as a force on and off the field. Beckham sold tickets for the Los Angeles Galaxy as much as he did for Montréal - even if rumours abounded that he would not play.
April 2015 - Champions League Finals
The largest crowd in Impact history, and the most important match a Canadian club has ever contested, occurred in April of 2015. The Impact, having defeated CD FAS, New York Red Bulls, CD Pachuca and LD Alajuelense in the CONCACAF Champions League would play the finals against Club América - the wealthiest club outside of Europe, and a titan of North American soccer. The Impact would set a record for attendance in Canada with a crowd of 61,040 - a sold out crowd - at Stade Olympique. Sadly, the Impact would lose 4-2, but not before holding América to a 1-0 deficit for 50 minutes.
Each of the above matches registers as some of Canadas most highly attended soccer matches, and some of its most important. They all stand as proof that Montréal loves soccer. These matches changed the way that Montréal views events like the Voyageurs Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League. While each is important, they will become less relevant as time marches on. With a little luck, the Impact give us another reason to fill the bleachers and set yet another record soon.