MONTREAL — It was human error, the Montreal Impact said. If so, it was a head-scratcher.
Game 1 of the MLS Eastern Conference final between Montreal and Toronto FC was delayed 40 minutes on Tuesday night after match officials found the penalty box markings on the field at Olympic Stadium were too small.
That set into motion a Three Stooges-like sequence that saw a small army measure the white lines marking the width of the two boxes. When the gaffe was finally pronounced official, the existing lines were painted green. More measurements were made before the capacity crowd of 61,004 cheered wildly as a man with a very basic push-machine laid down the white lines where they were meant to be.
Adding to the low-tech process, a man with what seemed like a leaf-blower then arrived to dry the paint. While this all happened, the players cooled their heels in their dressing rooms.
"Essentially it's a human mistake, done by our crew," Richard Legendre, the Impact's executive vice-president, told reporters after the match.
The same crew had been error-free for the last three years, he added, while still accepting responsibility for the blunder.
"There was a mistake of about close to two metres on each side," he said. "It's something that never happened and we will make sure that it doesn't happens again."
The officials noticed the error when they took the field at 7:10 p.m., 50 minutes before the scheduled kickoff time. Legendre said that was later than usual because of traffic, adding it was not the officials' fault.
The error was repeated at both ends of the pitch and went unnoticed by both clubs during practice Monday.
"The mistake was well-done," he said wryly.
Legendre said the measuring device used was flawed. "But that's not an excuse, because we should have double-checked once it was done."
"We're somewhat embarrassed," Impact owner Joey Saputo told ESPN, which was broadcasting the game south of the border, when the mistake was discovered.
Montreal was also pained by giving up two late goals in a 3-2 win over Toronto that sends the two-legged series back to BMO Field on Nov. 30.
The Impact normally play at the adjacent Saputo Stadium but have used Olympic Stadium for big games.
While Toronto players said they were not fazed by the delay, coach Greg Vanney said it was an unexpected challenge.
"The guys came off the field, they were buzzing, they were ready to go. It's the biggest game of the year for many guys and all of a sudden you find out you're going to have a 20- to 30-minute delay ... It breaks their rhythm, it breaks all the things you're used to doing in terms of your preparation."
Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin said he figured out something was wrong at the end of warmups as the officials kept measuring.
"One guy would go to another and say 'I think it's 18 yards.' And another guy would say 'No, it's short,'" he said.
Toronto captain Michael Bradley even raised a Montreal conspiracy theory.
"Probably not totally out of the realm of possibilities that they did it on purpose maybe," he said with a smile. "Add to the drama of it all. I don't know."
But he said the snafu didn't take away from the occasion of a roller-coaster game before a loud crowd, MLS's second-largest playoff attendance.
"In the end I thought it was a great night for the game, for the league, for the two cities."
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