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Impact anxious to open expanded Saputo Stadium against Sounders

MONTREAL - Davy Arnaud knows the importance of having a stadium that a team can call home.

And the Montreal Impact captain is looking forward to the club's move into a revamped and expanded Saputo Stadium to face the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night.

After playing their first five home games indoors on a synthetic surface at Olympic Stadium, and eight of their first 13 Major League Soccer games on the road, the Major League Soccer expansion club is ready to take ownership of its grass pitch home. They were 2-1-2 in the Big O.

''There is that (special) feeling, especially because we've played so many games on the road this year,'' Arnaud said Friday. ''I don't know how many people realize how much we've played on the road.

''It's been tough for us. Having our own home, our own stadium, is important to us. We're going to play a lot of games in there. I kind of went through this last year with Kansas City, where we played a lot of games on the road and then really benefited from being at home. Hopefully we'll do the same thing.''

Sporting Kansas City played its first 10 games away from home last season, picking up only one win, before moving into Livestrong Park. In their new digs, Sporting caught fire and finished first in the Eastern Conference.

When Montreal landed an MLS expansion franchise, it came with a promise to grow the stadium that opened in May, 2008 from 13,034 seats to at least 20,000.

The renovated stadium, slated to hold 20,341, is ready for use even though one section of about 900 seats in the east end won't be completed until later this year. It has a new look, with 6,948 seats covered, new lighting, and more corporate boxes and concession stands.

''It's more intimate now,'' said midfielder Patrice Bernier. ''It's more compact with the covered seats.

''The sound will stay inside. I think people will feel closer to the action.''

It was Arnaud who scored Montreal's first MLS goal in a 1-1 draw at the Big O with the Chicago Fire on March 17. Now there's a chance to be the first to score at the expanded facility. Rocco Placentino was first to hit the back of the net in Saputo Stadium's previous set-up in June, 2008.

''There's a lot of parity in this league,'' said Bernier. ''At home, we have a chance to show that while we did well at Olympic Stadium, now this is our home and to demonstrate that it will be hard to beat us at home.''

The game ends a nearly three-week break that allowed some MLS players to report to national teams for World Cup qualifiers. Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who played for Jamaica, will start against Seattle.

The Impact ended the first section of the schedule at 3-7-3, but expect to do better with six of their next 10 games at home. It starts with a tough game against the Sounders (7-3-3), who are third in the Western Conference.

''We're anxious to play,'' added Bernier. ''It was a chance to refresh yourself physically and mentally.

''There were some guys with some aches and pains. Now we have our whole team. Now we just have to be patient. We can't push too hard on the gas and get burned out by half time.''

Based on practice, it appears coach Jesse Marsch will go with his new 4-2-3-1 setup that has his three top midfielders — Arnaud, Felipe Martins and Justin Mapp — supporting a single striker. On Friday, that was rookie Andrew Wenger, which would leave big striker Bernardo Corradi on the bench.

The back line has Zarek Valentin, Nelson Rivas, Matteo Ferrari and Jeb Brovsky.

The Sounders were one of Montreal's chief rivals for championships when both were in lower leagues. Montreal beat Seattle 2-0 in the final to claim the A-League title in 2004, only to lose to the Sounders in the second round of playoffs the following year.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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