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Sounders visit the Great White Nord

Sounders’ Lamar Neagle, right, learned how to get by in Montreal as a member of the Impact in 2012. (Associated Press)
Sounders’ Lamar Neagle, right, learned how to get by in Montreal as a member of the Impact in 2012. (Associated Press)
Don Ruiz Tacoma News Tribune

In traveling from downtown Montreal to Stade Saputo, the Seattle Sounders headed nord.

At least according to the highway signs, they didn’t head north – they headed nord.

French isn’t just common in Quebec, it’s the sole official language. That makes it unique among Major League Soccer markets and poses distinct challenges for most Americans who play there.

“Being American you can sit there and complain about it and whine about it and say, ‘Ah, what are they doing,’ ” said Sounders’ goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who played for the Montreal Impact from 2012-14. “But that’s who they are. I’ve got a lot of respect for that. They don’t want to veer off from their history and their culture. I tip my hat to that. It’s a fun place. It’s certainly not the greatest place for English-only-speaking people. But it is a great place to go. It’s a great city.”

It was not so great for the Sounders in their first visit in 2012, when the expansion Impact played its first game at renovated Stade Saputo and thrilled the home crowd with a 4-1 rolling of Seattle. The Sounders’ lone win in Montreal came 2-0 last season, but that game was played at neighboring Olympic Stadium. Seattle will make its third visit to Montreal on Saturday, returning to soccer-specific Saputo.

“At Saputo the fans are kind of right on top of you,” said Seattle forward/midfielder Lamar Neagle. “Grass field. Great field when I was there – obviously I haven’t played on it in a while. Great atmosphere. I know the fans were always packing the stadium there. Olympic Stadium was turf, there were dips, and the fans were always so far away that there was definitely a different atmosphere. I like Saputo Stadium.”

Neagle played the original Sounders-Impact as a member of the Impact, having been sent to Montreal as part of the deal that brought Eddie Johnson to Seattle. He was traded back in 2013 for an international roster spot.

“It’s definitely more of a European feel to a town,” Neagle said. “I did manage to find a little niche where there are more English-speaking businesses and people, so that was just more comfortable for me. I didn’t pick up French too quickly, so it was nice to kind of feel more at home in such of a foreign place. … It seems like yesterday, but it was three years since I’ve been there, so obviously the turnover for the team has been quite a bit. (But) you always want to get the better of the team that you used to be on.”

The Sounders are hungry for three points against anyone. They’ve gone 1-5 over their last six league games, scoring just two goals. One of those came from Neagle.

The slump has coincided with the absences of goals leaders Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. Both are expected to be out again today, as Dempsey concludes his Gold Cup duty with the U.S. national team, and Martins continues to recover from a leg injury. That means Neagle is likely to be in Seattle’s starting lineup against the Impact, although coach Sigi Schmid has publicly expressed disappointment in his inability to finish the chances he has had.

“(There is) obviously frustration with me not scoring goals and us not getting too many chances,” Neagle said. “Or even the chances that we get bouncing wide. Or us having more chances than the other team, but they end up scoring one and so it ends up 1-0 when we think we should be pulling these games out.”

With goals at a premium, the margin for error has reduced for the Seattle defense and for Perkins, who has started the last two matches in place of No. 1 keeper Stefan Frei (shoulder). Those have been Perkins’ only starts in Seattle after being a regular at Montreal over the previous two and a half seasons.

The Impact also has had a season of highs and lows, advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League final, but currently eighth in the MLS Eastern Conference and coming off of a 2-1 loss at Kansas City.

“At home they’re a completely different team – they’re a completely different group of people,” Perkins said. “They’ve been playing well at home. They have good support this year. They’re trying to get up the table as well, and we’re trying to get points. So they’re going to come out flying.”

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