LONDON, ENGLAND – The Montreal Impact are ready to become the latest team to make their MLS debut. Their inaugural opponent knows just how difficult that can be.
The Impact will play their first game in league history Saturday night as they visit the Vancouver Whitecaps, who struggled during their first campaign in 2011.
Montreal will be the league's 19th team as it kicks off at BC Place and ninth expansion team to take the pitch since the end of the 2001 season. The Impact played in various other leagues for nearly two decades before joining the MLS and will have a few holdovers from their North American Soccer League incarnation.
Among the new additions for first-year coach Jesse Marsch's club is Davy Arnaud, a former captain for Sporting Kansas City who will have the same role with his new team.
"I am excited about the opportunity and look forward to the challenges that remain ahead," Arnaud told the team's website.
The Impact also added former MLS goalkeeper of the year and Jamaican international Donovan Ricketts in a deal with reigning MLS Cup champ Los Angeles and acquired U.S. national team member Justin Braun from Chivas USA. They selected Andrew Wenger from Duke with the No. 1 overall pick in the SuperDraft.
Those players will try to help Montreal to a better opening campaign than the Whitecaps, who were 6-18-10 and tied with New England for the fewest points in the league with 28.
Teitur Thodarson, a holdover from the franchise's minor league days, was fired as coach in late May while the team was in the midst of a league-record, 14-game winless skid following a 4-2 victory over Toronto in its inaugural game March 19.
Tom Soehn, the director of soccer operations, coached the Whitecaps the rest of the season and Martin Rennie took over in November.
Rennie could benefit from the addition of forward Sebastien Le Toux, who was acquired from Philadelphia in January. Le Toux had 25 goals and 20 assists in his two seasons with the Union.
His presence could give the Whitecaps a dynamic set of scorers. Brazilian forward Camilo's 12 goals for the Whitecaps in 2011 were tied for fifth in the league, and Eric Hassli added 10 goals in his first MLS campaign.
Vancouver showed perhaps it's ready for a better season by going unbeaten in the Pro Soccer Classic at Disney World against MLS foes. Camilo scored the lone goal in a 1-0 championship win over Toronto.
The team outscored its first three opponents in that showcase by a combined 7-0, and the effort in the final game in Florida left captain Jay DeMerit less than satisfied.
"Guys didn't work hard enough, but hopefully that's a blessing in disguise," he said. "I'd rather have it this week than (against Montreal). But take the positives away from it: It's still a win. Still kept a clean sheet. But ultimately still a lot of work to do."
That work will continue against a former minor league rival. The teams also met in last year's Canadian Championship semifinals, with Vancouver outscoring Montreal 2-1 over the two-legged tie.
The Impact will play six of their first league games on the road and their first five home contests at Olympic Stadium before heading back to Saputo Stadium on June 16 against Seattle. That facility is being renovated and expanded to 20,341 seats.
This game marks the only meeting between the Canadian clubs during the MLS season.