Montreal Impact carry confidence, winning streak into MLS semifinal second leg

Montreal Impact carry confidence, winning streak into MLS semifinal second leg

Main Pic: Montreal Impact’s Patrice Bernier celebrates after scoring against the Toronto FC during first half Major League Soccer sudden death playoff game in Montreal on October 29, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact are a confident group these days and they’ll need that heading into the second leg of their Major League Soccer semifinal in Columbus.

The Impact go into the decisive match at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday holding a one-goal lead in the two games, total goals series thanks to a 2-1 victory at home last week.

They bring a 9-2-2 record, including wins in their last five games, since Mauro Biello replaced Frank Klopas as coach and scoring machine Didier Drogba became a regular starter on Sept. 5. They are 2-2-2 on the road in that span.

With Columbus holding an important away goal, Montreal needs to win, tie or lose by one goal but score at least two to reach the Eastern Conference final. The Crew can get through with a 1-0 win on the away goals rule, or a victory by more than one goal.

“The ability to face adversity was always a strong point of this team,” Biello said this week. “We went into some difficult away games.

“We were down in San Jose (a 1-1 draw on Sept. 16 without Drogba). We were down at home against Chicago (a 4-3 win in Drogba’s first start) and the character and ability to fight was excellent.”

The Impact also trailed Columbus in the first leg when Federico Higuain jumped on a failed clearing attempt to beat Evan Bush in the 33rd minute, but Patrice Bernier equalized four minutes later and substitute Johan Venegas got the game-winner in the 77th.

They fell behind in the final game of the regular season against Toronto FC but came back to win 2-1 to take third place in the conference and get home field advantage in the knockout round against TFC, which they won 3-0.

They are coming off a stretch of three games in eight days, but have had a full week to prepare for the second leg in Columbus. The rest was a blessing for older players like 37-year-old Drogba and 36-year-old Bernier.

“It’s better for sure because the last games were very hard and now we have more time to prepare,” said midfielder Marco Donadel.

Including the playoff game, the Impact beat Columbus in all three meetings this season by a combined 7-2, but Donadel said it would be a mistake to assume they have the Crew’s number.

“I think they are the best team in the league,” the Italian said. “They are really good playing the ball.

“They have quality in every zone of the pitch. (Kei) Kamara scored a lot of goals. (Ethan) Finlay. Higuain, who plays everywhere on the pitch. But we are also good with the ball and now we have to go forward. We really want it. You see it in the eyes. The determination. The fire.”

Midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker missed two days of training with a virus, and that could bring Dilly Duka or Calum Mallace into the starting 11.

The Impact got valuable experience in pressure matches early in the season with an unexpected run to the CONCACAF Champions League final.

They made history as the first Canadian-based team to win an MLS playoff game against TFC and reaching the semifinals for the first time.

Now they want to take another step to the final, where they will face either the New York Red Bulls or D.C. United.

“We’ve got to have a good start, to control the momentum of the game,” said Biello. “They’ve got some key players who will be at home in front of their fans and they’ll be full of energy.

“We’ve got to weather that storm and grow as a team, like we’ve done in the past.”

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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