As the Montreal Impact players arrived at Olympic Stadium for an open practice on Thursday, there were already fans lined up to get in.
But the 2,000 who showed up for the expansion Major League Soccer club's first look at the domed stadium is nothing compared to the throng expected for their first home game against the Chicago Fire on Saturday.
A crowd of up to 60,000 is anticipated.
”It was good to have people here because now we have a feel of the noise,” said coach Jesse Marsch, whose team was met with chants and songs from flag-waving fans throughout its hour-long training session.
”Guys are starting to feel the energy of the city. We've been gone so much that we haven't had a good chance to understand the support behind the team. The guys are feeling it and it's good.”
Cheers went up as the coaches and players were introduced one by one before the practice, with the loudest reserved for stars like Brossard, Que., native Patrice Bernier, captain Davy Arnaud and newly signed striker Bernardo Corradi.
After 18 seasons in lower divisions, the Impact were admitted as the 19th franchise in MLS.
Their inaugural match on the road didn't go well — a 2-0 loss in Vancouver last week — but they hope to get off to a good start at home. The Impact will play its first five home games at the Big O before moving into an expanded Saputo Stadium in June.
More than 52,000 tickets have been sold. The stadium's capacity was boosted to more than 58,500 by adding field level bleachers this week and 1,600 more are to go in to push the number of seats to more than 60,000.
The team hopes to break to local record for soccer of 58,542 for a 1981 Montreal Manic playoff game in the now-defunct North American Soccer League playoff game.
”It's great to see the sport has grown,” Bernier said. ”Now it's up to us to show that the product is good so the people are proud and they'll keep coming.”
Olympic Stadium can be a loud, cavernous place, which suits fullback Jeb Brovsky.
”We all looked up in awe, like we were gladiators in the Coliseum or something,” he said. ”Hopefully we fill it up. I think the boys are ready for the game.”