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Impact gunning for win in home opener against defending champion Sounders

Impact face top opponent in home opener

MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact have a formidable opponent for their home opener Saturday night at Olympic Stadium â€” the defending Major League Soccer champion Seattle Sounders.

A crowd of about 35,000 is expected to see the Impact, coming off a 1-0 loss in San Jose in their season opener, take on the team that went on a roll at the end of last season and ended up beating Toronto FC in a shootout in the championship game in December.

Seattle lost its opener 2-1 in Houston last week.

"They're going to come in hungry," Impact forward Dominic Oduro said this week. "They're the defending champions.

"They want to prove something, but we also lost a game where we didn't do well and we have to make it right. It's our home opener and we have to prove to everybody out there that we're a better team than we were in San Jose."

The Impact did not get a shot on target in a listless performance against the Earthquakes and now they have to face the only team that has ever beaten them in a home opening game at the Big O â€” a 2-0 setback in 2014. Montreal is 2-1-2 in home openers since joining MLS in 2012.

While the Sounders may be looking ahead to their own home opener next week, when their championship will be feted at CenturyLink Field, they should be ready for the Impact thanks to former Montreal midfielder Harry Shipp. Now with Seattle, Shipp said this week he gave coach Brian Schmetzer all he knew from Montreal's trip to the Eastern Conference final last fall.

The midfielder didn't play in Houston, but Schmetzer may be tempted to send him on against a team he was glad to leave after his one season in Montreal.

In training camp , Shipp told the Sounders website: "I already feel more comfortable in two weeks of training with the guys and staff than I ever felt (in Montreal)."

The Sounders looked like they may not even make the playoffs last July before suddenly turning it all around when Schmetzer replaced Sigi Schmid as coach. That coincided with the arrival of Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who transformed the attack enough to earn MLS newcomer of the year honours.

Perhaps more surprising was that Seattle won without U.S. international forward Clint Dempsey, whose season ended when he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat on Aug. 26. The 34-year-old is back and he scored the Sounders' only goal in Houston.

Impact fullback Chris Duvall is excited to play against Dempsey, one of the U.S. national team's all-time scoring leaders.

"As an American, he's a player I love to watch and that honestly, I root for," said Duvall. "To see him back on the field is great.

"Of course, playing against him is not going to be easy because he's a special player, but I'm very happy to see him back on the field."

Duvall is expected to start a second straight game at right back with incumbent Hassoun Camara sitting out a one-game suspension for being shown the yellow card twice in San Jose. Centrebacks Victor Cabrera and Wandrille Lefevre, who missed the game with injuries, are back and at least one of them should play.

The Impact want the win, and not only because their next three games are on the road before they return April 15 at Saputo Stadium against the expansion club Atlanta United. They also hope to rinse away the bad taste of the San Jose game.

"I think we owe it to the fans and we owe it to ourselves to prove that we're better than that," said Oduro. "The best way to prove it is to show it in front of our crowd.

"They're the defending champions but at this point it's a clean slate. It doesn't matter. This year's different. We have to show our fans and ourselves what kind of team we are."

The inconsistent artificial surface that has been used at Olympic Stadium recently has mostly been good to the Impact. They beat the New York Red Bulls 3-0 on it in last year's home opener and then beat Toronto in the first leg of the conference final in November.

The Impact's first home opener attracted 58,912 in 2012, when they drew 1-1 with Chicago and Davy Arnaud scored the team's first MLS goal, heading in a cross from Sanna Nyassi. Oduro played for the Fire in that game.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press