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Impact set to move outdoors as Saputo Stadium expansion almost done

06/01/2012 04:54 EDT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - The work won't all be finished, but the Montreal Impact will play its first game in an expanded Saputo Stadium on schedule when the Seattle Sounders visit on June 16.

Team president Joey Saputo donned a hard hat on Friday and joined reporters on a tour of the facility, which was still very much a construction site.

"It'll be a marathon to the finish, but it's exciting," he said. "The surface is about to be laid and we're just finishing up.

"It's pretty cool what we've done."

To meet league standards, the four-year-old stadium had to be expanded when the club joined Major League Soccer as an expansion team this season. It will go from 13,034 to 20,341 seats.

With the help of a $23 million grant from the Quebec government, work began when the Impact's last season in the North American Soccer League ended in October.

An estimated 1,970 tons of steel, 113 tons of aluminium and 200,000 feet of wiring later, a bigger stadium with more seats, luxury boxes and concession stands is almost done.

Saputo said only one section of about 900 seats at the eastern end will need to be completed later in the season, but the work won't prevent games from being played.

While work was underway, the Impact played their first five MLS home games plus one Amway Canadian Championship game at the adjacent Olympic Stadium. They drew record crowds in the domed Big O, including more than 60,000 for a visit by England star David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

But Saputo said 20,000 seats is the right size for most games.

"We have to establish that we're sold out every game," he said. "It's great to have 60,000 when Beckham comes in. It's great to have 50,000 for our opening game.

"But for now, I feel this market is an average of 20,000 fans per game. That's what we need to stay focused on."

The team will continue to play its first three games of each season at Olympic Stadium to avoid the snow and cold in March and early April.

But the real home field is Saputo Stadium, which unlike the Big O will have a grass pitch, which is to be laid over what is now a bare sand base next week.

The revamped stadium has an enlarged south grandstand that now curves around the west end, where before there were only temporary corporate boxes. A gap between the west and east stands was also filled in with seats.

Partial roofing to cover 6,948 seats has also been installed around most of the stadium.

"The ambience will be incredible," Saputo said. "The sound will bounce off the roof and stay in, so you don't lose the roar of the crowd.

"Also, the sight lines are fantastic. With the pitch of the stands, you're on top of the field. It'll be even better now."

Corporate boxes were increased from 16 to 34, and there are three entrances instead of two.

There are also new stadium lights reaching as high as 61 meters, which the club calls the highest sports-related lighting posts in Canada.

The Impact (3-7-3) played eight of their first 13 MLS games away but now have a busy home schedule. Five of their next eight are at Saputo Stadium, including a June 27 visit from Toronto FC that is to be new designated player signing Marco Di Vaio's debut match with Montreal.

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