The Montreal Impact were double losers on Wednesday night — falling to the Vancouver Whitecaps on the field and to the Montreal Canadiens in the seats.
There were wide, empty swaths at Montreal's 13,000-seat Saputo Stadium for a game that went head-to-head with the Game 7 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins that knocked the Canadiens out of the NHL playoffs. Many of the few thousand who turned out had one eye on hockey and the other on the soccer pitch.
Terry Dunfield scored the only goal in the 67th minute as the Whitecaps, now playing in Major League Soccer, snapped a six-game winless run to draw first blood in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship against the North American Soccer League's Impact.
Vancouver won against a team that had given them nothing but trouble in the Canadian Championship recent years but which was without its usual packed house of noisy supporters.
"Any advantage, we can take," said Dunfield, whose team will play host to Montreal in the return match May 4. "It was an important one for us.
"We were coming off some good performances and not getting the results and wins are important for a team. We needed that. It'll give us confidence going into Columbus [to play the Crew on Saturday]. And this tournament is important for us. We want to get out of our group and winning away is huge."
The crowd was announced at 8,412 but there were perhaps half that number in the seats. The loudest roar of the night game when the Canadiens' P.K. Subban scored in the third period to force overtime, which fans saw on handheld devices or on TVs in the stadium's private boxes.
"Our crowd is so important for us, every time the stadium is packed and we have our people behind us," said Montreal coach Marc dos Santos. "We need our crowd to compete.
"We can't compete with the Montreal Canadiens. That's the truth. It's the seventh game, it's chilly outside, it's better to be at home with a glass of wine and watch the Canadiens play for a lot of people. We have to respect that. Now it's over — not that I'm happy, don't look at me like I'm the devil — but now hopefully everybody's going to come."
The tournament, which added a fourth team in the NASL's Edmonton this year, decides the winner of the Voyageurs Cup and the lone Canadian entry in the CONCACAF champions league. The Vancouver-Montreal winner will face the Toronto FC-Edmonton victor in the next round. Toronto won its first leg 3-0 in Edmonton.
The Impact had the better chances in an end-to-end but scoreless first half, but Vancouver coach Teitur Thordarson changed strategy from long balls down the wings to a controlled passing game in the second half and it paid off.
Russell Teibert slipped a pass into the middle and Dunfield slid on his chest to head a low shot past goalkeeper Bill Gaudette.
Dunfield still had a shiner from a broken nose suffered in the team's last game against Dallas but didn't hesitate to play the ball with his head.
"I had no problem with it," he said. "Especially when you score, you don't feel it at all."
He said it helped that Whitecaps stars like Brazlian striker Camilo and designated player Eric Hassli stepped up their games in the second half.
Dos Santos, whose team will make the jump to MLS next season, certainedly noticed.
"It shows that when you're able to have a little bit more money to buy a little bit more quality, that's what happens," he said. "If we scored in the first half when we had those half-chances we'd have put ourselves in a better position, but we didn't.
"And when you don't, you give the opponent belief. It's too bad, because [the goal] was probably our only big defensive mistake."
Thordarson was glad to have defender Mouloud Akloul back in the lineup. Akloul played his first game since he scored a goal and broke a leg in his first game for the Whitecaps last season.
"It was fantastic to see him on the field again," the coach said. "He came to us last year, played 17 minutes in the first game and broke his leg. This is his first real game since then. I was delighted to see him go through 90 minutes here and he did it well."
He was also pleased to have midfielder Shea Salinas back from injury and get 12 minutes of late action.
Both teams wasted decent chances in a lively first half, but the closest thing to a goal came in injury time after what looked like a dive by Anthony Le Gall gave the Impact a free kick just outside the Vancouver area.
Ali Gerba shot into the wall and former Whitecap Zarub Tsiskaridze blasted a shot that just missed the left post and hit the side netting.
After La Gall's hard, low shot was stopped by Jay Nolly in the first minute of the second half, the Whitecaps took control and had the better chances, including a low blast from Hassli that forced an alert save from Gaudette.
The teams played to a pair of 1-1 draws in last year's Canadian championship, which was won by Toronto FC.
The Whitecaps, 1-3-3 in MLS, play Saturday against the Crew in Columbus. Montreal, 0-2-1 in the NASL and now winless in four games this season, play a league game Sunday in Edmonton.
Vancouver was without midfielder Gershon Koffie, who was away with Ghana's u20 team, but he is to rejoin the team Thursday in Columbus.
The game had a woman referee, Carol-Anne Chenard. She showed one yellow card to Montreal's Kevin Hatchi.