Soccer fans expected to flock in droves to the "Big O" for the Montreal Impact's CONCACAF quarter-final match.
The Canadiens may have fallen on hard times lately, but another sports franchise that calls Montreal home is flying high.
The Montreal Impact are in the quarter-finals the CONCACAF Champions League and preparing to host Mexico's Santos Laguna Wednesday at Olympic Stadium (CBC Bold, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET) in the opener of a two-game playoff, the biggest game in the team's history.
The Impact normally play at the outdoor Saputo Stadium, but the cold and snowy weather that Montreal routinely sees during February forced the team to move the game under the roof of the Olympic Stadium.
The "Big O"
Competing in the United Soccer League First Division, the Impact routinely sell out the 13,000-seat Saputo Stadium and lead the USL-1 in attendance but the team is expecting as many as 50,000 fans to pass through the turnstiles on Wednesday.
"There's a lot of buzz in the city. For myself, as someone who has been around soccer in this city for over 20 years, this will be a very historic moment," Nick De Santis, general manager of the Impact, told CBCSports.ca.
Not since the days of the defunct North American Soccer League, when the Montreal Manic drew 58,000 fans for a playoff game against the Chicago Sting in 1981, has the city been swept up in soccer fever quite like this.
The Impact's strong showing in the first round of the Champions League — where it posted impressive victories over Trinidadian champions Joe Public FC and Olimpia of Honduras, and earned a credible draw with Mexico's Atlante — has led to new interest in the club from Montreal sports fans.
"We've opened people's eyes with our success in this tournament and that was a big step for us because we've convinced people that we can play at a high level and we've seen the response," De Santis said.
"We've sold 45,000 tickets and we're hoping to draw over 50,000 fans, and that just goes to show the interest of people that are just catching on to us now."
It's not just the fans who are excited; the Impact players themselves are just as energized.
"The response from our fans and the city has been great. It hasn't gone unnoticed by the players," said Impact goalkeeper Matt Jordan. "People are very excited that soccer is being played in our city this time of the year. I think it's going to be a great atmosphere."
Montreal a hotbed of soccer
Jordan, who joined the Impact in 2007 after a brief time playing in Denmark and stints with three Major League Soccer clubs, believes that the level of interest and attendance for Wednesday's game proves that Montreal is a burgeoning soccer hotbed.
"Obviously, playing in front of a big crowd like that gives an indication about how this city feels about soccer. I've said it all along, and I've played abroad in Europe and in three cities in MLS over a 10-year period: I really feel that Montreal has the potential to be one of the top soccer markets in North America," Jordan said.
Playing in front of a big crowd like the one expected for Wednesday's game is far from the norm for the Impact, but Jordan said he and his teammates aren't nervous about it.
"I've played in front of some big crowds. When I played in Denmark we participated in the UEFA Cup so there were some big crowds there," he said.
"When I played in Dallas, we used to play some big games against Mexican first division teams, and we would get big crowds for those games. There were a lot of big games during my time in MLS, so it's always fun to play in that type of setting."