Soccer Needs Vision and, um, Those Other Things

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Tomorrow night's CONCACAF Champions League match in Montreal was scheduled for Olympic Stadium for a number of reasons, foremost among them being that nobody wanted to deal with sweeping up all the frozen fingers and toes that would have fallen off the attendees while watching a soccer game outside in Montreal in February.

Olympic stadium of course has a roof, but that raised another concern since the City of Montreal has an ordinance stating that if there's much more than a dusting of snow on the roof or the Olympic Tower which stands right next to it, then you can't hold an event there. This is in response to an incident at an auto show a couple years ago when said roof caved in on the folks, injuring several and putting a real damper on the whole affair.

Luckily no snow is in the forecast, although a low of 5 degrees F is.

But the news that has everyone talking is the fact that they've sold around 50,000 tickets and with a strong walkup there's an outside chance they'll sell the place out (the exact figure seems to change depending on who is saying it but that would be well over 60,000).

This is extraordinary, certainly, and good for them. The Impact's CCL campaign has been a real ray of sunshine on a Canadian soccer landsape that could use some good news, what with the incompetent bake sale caliber clowns running the CSA working overtime to keep their national team from rising out of the bowels of CONCACAF and TFC's amazingly inept MLS efforts which, apart from selling a lot of tickets, have been an exercise in futility, as witness, for example, getting beaten out of this very same CCL series by, yes, the USL1 Impact.

So a number of observers on both sides of the 49th parallel (since we neither got 54' 40" or fought) are suggesting that MLS "should take a second look" at Montreal as a potential market based on the surprisingly strong support the area is showing the Impact.

They're suggesting that MLS was "a bit hasty" in dismissing Joey Saputo's bid over a few lousy million bucks, which is nothing compared to the huge number of new fans the league could co-opt.

However, while taking nothing away from Montreal - and it's a great city with fabulous, uncrowded restaurants, lovely scenery and an almost intimate, European feel (if you've never been you should make a point of it) - if they have people hanging from the rafters in hoary old Olympic Stadium tomorrow it changes nothing relative to MLS.

The reason is simple: Joey Saputo is a moron.

We'll skip right past the fact that MLS begged him to come in for $10 million as recently as 2002 and he publicly laughed at them, saying that it "wasn't worth that much" and that the USL is a better league anyway.

Then TFC happened and all of a sudden he wants in. Of course in the interim he built a fine little USL caliber stadium that seats 12,000 people but he claims he can expand it to 18,000.

As long as MLS pays for it.

Because in reality what his since-rejected bid boiled down to was this: yes, he and Gillett were willing to spend $40 million, but from that he wanted to deduct the cost of expanding Stade Saputo. In other words, he wanted MLS's owners to pay for his expansion.

So it was their turn to laugh.

The price of coming into MLS is $40 million. Joey won't pay. He says "it's not worth it". The same thing he's been saying for years. The tune hasn't changed, and as long as there are others willing to pony up, nobody's gonna give him his discount.

Furthermore, if they sell out tonight's match it only proves that chances are good Saputo can sell out an 18,000 seat building. Which we already pretty much knew.

So the size of the crowd in Montreal tomorrow is a pretty cool thing for all concerned and good for them. Unfortunately, whatever the final number, it will only prove what a worthless, risk-averse, gutless little weasel Joey Saputo is.

A real, honest-to-goodness sports entrepreneur, someone with vision and business acumen and guts (see: Hunt, Lamar) would have had a decent stadium and an MLS team there seven years ago. As it is, those 60,000 people in the stands don't represent, as some people are suggesting, a rebuke to MLS.

Rather, it's a demonstration of how badly Joey Saputo has missed the boat. He's been sitting on a soccer goldmine for years now, a veritable volcano of passion and fan support and hasn't been able to gin up the stones or the intelligence to exploit it.

And that sure isn't MLS's fault.