Never have more people in this country assembled to watch a professional soccer game, it was fitting that the Montreal Impact gave their record crowd a fine performance to celebrate.
Though their inaugural meeting with the defending champion L.A. Galaxy ended in a 1-1 draw, the home side carried the play for much of the game, and is now riding a four-game unbeaten string.
"Earlier in the year we may not have gotten that point," said Impact coach Jesse Marsch, later adding that "the fact we didn't give up the second goal was actually an accomplishment...They earned a point."
The Galaxy, seventh in the West coming into the game, will be grateful for the road point, but the fact remains they are winless in four.
The game was played before 60,860, which set a new professional soccer attendance mark at the Olympic Stadium, and bettered the previous Canadian best of 60,342 in 1983 when the Vancouver Whitecaps took on the Seattle Sounders in a newly built BC Place.
The professional record is still a far cry from the 71,619 people who attended the 1976 Olympic final in Montreal between East Germany and Poland, according to soccer historian Colin Jose.
The capacity of the stadium was reduced after the Olympics.
Many in attendance at Saturday's game were drawn by mega-star David Beckham, and the L.A. midfielder didn’t disappoint, scoring on a trade-mark free kick in the second half to earn a point for his club.
But the best news for the home faithful was the play of the home side, who swept forward early and defended resolutely to withstand a late L.A. flurry and protect their unbeaten home record - the expansion Impact were one of just two teams in MLS to have a perfect home record going into Saturday’s action.
“We're going to have for every inch alls season, we're going to need a group of men here,” Marsch said.
Montreal enjoyed a decent spell of possession to start the game - courtesy of an overcooked L.A. pass just seconds after the opening kickoff.
Beckham’s first involvement in the game was a cynical tug on Impact midfielder Felipe’s shirt as he hot-footed into open turf outside the Galaxy box in the sixth minute.
He had his first meaningful touch moments later, earning boos from the crowd.
The teams had barely settled into the game when debutant central defender Nelson Rivas - the MLS club’s first signing and a player who has missed the first two months of the season through injury - hit a straightforward high ball up the middle of the pitch.
Target-man Bernardo Corradi got a faint touch on his header and the ball fell into the path of captain Davy Arnaud, who had turned makeshift central defender Dan Keat - Arnaud raced into open space and chipped onrushing keeper Bill Gaudette.
Cue the bedlam.
Montreal could easily have doubled its lead when Arnaud and Corradi combined in the L.A. penalty area, but the lanky Italian striker tripped on the artificial turf - his half-hearted appeal for a penalty was waved away.
As the Galaxy began pouring forward - Impact keeper Donovan Ricketts made a reaction save at his near post from a Beckham corner - Montreal had an even better opportunity in the 19th minute to stretch their lead on a counter, when Collen Warner and Justin Mapp swept down the field against one L.A. defender.
But Warner could do no better than drag his shot narrowly wide of the far upright.
The visitors had a decent opportunity to equalize on the stroke of half-time after Impact defender Matteo Ferrari clipped Galaxy forward Landon Donovan’s ankles - earning a yellow card for his trouble - but the free kick went for naught.
All in all, it was a frustrating half for L.A., Beckham at one point gestured angrily at fellow midfielder Michael Stephens after a pass went astray.
Beckham has famously described being on the receiving end of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s ‘hairdryer’ treatment, it’s not known whether L.A. coach Bruce Arena resorted to similar tactics at half-time, but L.A. started the second half brightly.
Ferrari did well to delicately dink the ball away from Donovan as hared toward goal in the 51st minute.
Ricketts parried a Donovan snap-shot from the edge of the penalty area in the 53rd minute, but there was an unmistakable sense that a goal was coming.
And in the 57th minute, it did.
After Rivas tripped up Donovan just to the right of the Montreal 18-yard box, Beckham stepped up and did what he does best, curling a spiffy free kick into the top corner to Ricketts’ left.
"We just wanted to keep being aggressive, which has been a problem all to often in games where we play well enough to win, but don't," said Donovan, saying of the Olympic Stadium crowd "I thought it was great."
The goal followed an angry confrontation between Beckham and impact midfielder Felipe, the former England international ran over to the Brazilian and berated him after he went down under a challenge near the L.A. goal.
Beckham and Felipe had a running battle all game, the Galaxy superstar earning a yellow card in the second half after elbowing the tricky Impact player in the face.
As to his skirmishes with Felipe, Beckham said “to play in the centre of midfield you have to be aggressive, and these things happen.”
He also explained why he took such umbrage during the second-half melee involving the players.
“I just felt the referee was making wrong decisions too many times. I might be wrong. But I don't think I am.
It's tough for the refs nowadays, plays happen so quickly. It's just one of those things,” he said.
Moments after the equalizer, the Galaxy were nosing around for more, but Ricketts was there - first he made a majestic arm save on Donovan (who had been put through on goal by Beckham), and followed it up with an astounding sprawling save to stymie Robbie Keane on the rebound.
The teams traded chances from there, but fatigue began taking its toll In the 80th minute, Impact substitute Justin Braun had a glorious chance to put Montreal ahead, but screwed his left-footed effort into the stands.
Arnaud also had the winning goal on his boot in the 87th minute but hit a screaming left-footed volley just wide.
In injury time Ricketts again bailed out his team, knocking Marcelo Sarvas’ sizzling right-footed kick out for a corner.
After the game, Beckham expressed frustration that his side's second-half pressure didn't yield a winner.
“We're disappointed not to have gotten all three points, we created lots of chances especially in the second half. I knew when we got that first goal our confidence would grow.”
Though a veteran of World Cups and European finals, Beckham was impressed by the Montreal crowd.
"Playing in front of 60,000 fans is incredible, full credit to them," he said, adding "it's a great day for the game."
Ricketts and Beckham shared the same dressing room last season, and Beckham praised the lanky Jamaican keeper's effort and said he knew he would have to come up with a superlative effort to beat him.
"He's such a talented goalkeeper and a great guy, I knew with the free kick that I had to be pretty precise to beat him, sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't," he said.Report Typo/Error