NEWS
11/09/2016 12:38 EST | Updated 11/10/2017 00:12 EST

Impact looking to fill Big O for MLS playoff showdown with Toronto FC

MONTREAL — He's already lived the experience once and Dominic Oduro wants to see Olympic Stadium filled with screaming fans again.

The Montreal Impact sold more than 30,000 tickets over the first two days after reaching the MLS Eastern Conference final, where they will face Toronto FC on Nov. 22 in the first leg of the two-game, aggregate-goal showdown between the Canadian rivals. The club is gunning for a sellout crowd of 60,000-plus in the domed stadium.

Oduro played in front of 61,004 in the same building on April 29, 2015 when the Impact lost 4-2 to Mexico's Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League final. He wants to feed off that energy one more time.

"We need 60," Oduro said Wednesday. "The fans should come out.

"I mean, we're playing against Toronto. It can't get any better. It would be like playing Club America in the Champions League but this time, it's going to be a very good game. I'm not trying to put words out there, but I think we have a very good team and our chances of beating Toronto are very high."

The Impact are still riding high from their upset of the first-place New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals. Montreal won the first leg 1-0 outdoors at Saputo Stadium and then topped the Red Bulls 2-1 in the return leg last Sunday on a pair of goals from silky midfielder Ignacio Piatti.

TFC routed New York City FC 7-0 on aggregate in the other semifinal to put both Canadian teams into the conference final for the first time. The second leg is in Toronto on Nov. 30.

One will advance to the MLS Cup final on Dec. 10 against Seattle or Colorado.

While attendance is strong at the 20,801-seat Saputo Stadium, Montreal fans have turned out in large numbers a handful of times for special games at the Big O, such as their first home game in MLS in 2012 and for Champions League matches.

Impact captain Patrice Bernier says it makes a difference.

"At this stage you need the 12th player," the midfielder from Brossard, Que., said. "The Big O is great when it's full, but there's still 20,000 left (to sell) and we expect the city to keep responding and make sure it's 60,000.

"Full, loud, vibrant, so we can get the result at home."

It helps that there is a break for international matches this week, which allows more time for sales.

It will also let players on both teams to heal bumps and bruises and be fit for the series, except those called away by their national sides such as Impact defenders Laurent Ciman (Belgium) and Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon) and midfielder Johan Venegas (Costa Rica) and Toronto's American duo of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

The Impact's rivalry with TFC has built slowly since they joined MLS five years ago, but it has heated up in the past year.

Toronto made the playoffs for the first time last October, but dropped a 3-0 decision in Montreal in the single-game opening round.

TFC got them back by winning their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal series this season. They also faced each other three times in the regular season, with TFC winning 2-0 in Montreal on April 23, the Impact posting a first-ever win in Toronto by a 1-0 score on Aug. 27 and the teams playing to a 2-2 draw at Saputo Stadium on Oct. 16.

TFC, which has the highest payroll in MLS, will be favoured but the Impact appear to have jelled at the right time. A pair of big wins late in the season secured a playoff spot and they downed D.C. United 4-2 in the opening round. 

Montreal's three-game winning run in the playoffs is their longest of the season. It set up the showdown with TFC that Bernier called perhaps the biggest club level event in Canadian soccer history.

"I've played Voyageurs Cup games against the Toronto Lynx (in the early 2000s) and we've played Amway Cup against Toronto and Vancouver, but this is MLS playoffs," said Bernier. "For Canadian soccer, you couldn't ask for a better setup.

"Since 2013 every game has meant something, either one knocking the other from the playoffs, then in the playoffs and now to a bigger scale — in the final. This is the biggest game in terms of the rivalry. It means that both teams have done well to reach this stage. Now we're going to see which is the better team and gets the result."

The Impact will shift practices from their training centre to Olympic Stadium next week to get used to the different roll and bounce of the ball on artificial turf.

Coach Mauro Biello said striker Didier Drogba, who came off the bench to set up a goal at New York on Sunday, will be available for the match. The 38-year-old Drogba usually sits out games on artificial surfaces, but would likely only be used late in the game.

Midfielder Hernan Bernardello and defender Hassoun Camara, both nursing minor ailments, did not take part in a light training session Wednesday, the team's first since the New York win.