Montreal Impact hope to clinch playoff spot with win in Orlando, with or without Drogba

Montreal Impact hope to clinch playoff spot with win in Orlando, with or without Drogba

Main pic: Saputo Stadium’ scoreboard in Montreal during a MLS game between Montreal Impact and Columbus Crew on 8 July 2012. Read: Stand Up Montreal alterning with “Debout Montréal” in French. Photo credit: Gates of Ale.

MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact are one win away from clinching a playoff spot, but it won’t come easy.

The Impact are only 2−7−4 on the road this season and begin a stretch of three away games in eight days when they play at Orlando FC on Saturday.

And they are not certain to have star striker Didier Drogba, at least not for the entire game, because the 37−year−old is not fond of playing on artificial surfaces like the one at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. A decision on Drogba was to be made after a practice on Friday.

With or without him, the Impact need at least a draw to hold off hard−charging Orlando, who have won three straight in a desperate bid to make the playoffs in their first Major League Soccer season.

“We can clinch and we can send a message to them that they’re not going to catch up,” Impact defender Wandrille Lefevre said this week. “And if we don’t lose, that’s good for us.

Not losing is probably the most important thing.”

Montreal (12−11−6) holds the sixth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of seventh place Orlando (10−13−8) with two games in hand. Montreal has five games left to play while Orlando has only three.

A Montreal win would bury Orlando and a draw would hold them off, but a loss would put them only one point back and make for a nervy end to the regular season.

After Orlando, the Impact travel to the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday and play at Colorado on Oct. 10.

Orlando is pushing for a crowd of 45,000 for what it sees as a decisive match. Hopes have been buoyed by scoring nine goals in their last three games, which included a 5−2 victory over the Red Bulls in New York in their last outing.

Canadian forward Cyle Larin of Brampton, Ont., the top pick in this year’s SuperDraft, had a hat−trick in that game to give him the MLS rookie goals record with 14. And 20−year−old Honduran designated player Bryan Rochez came off the bench to score in a third straight game.

The Impact tied Orlando 2−2 at home on March 28 and beat them 2−0 in Montreal on June 20, but Lefevre cautioned they are not the same team now.

“They’re completely different,” he said. “Larin is not the same player as he was at the beginning of the year in terms of confidence.

“He’s scored a lot of goals. He wasn’t running deep and now he’s doing that. Kaka is still Kaka. It’s going to be hard but we’re ready for it.”

Montreal will be short−handed. Top midfielder Ignacio Piatti is not due back until next week from attending to a family matter in Argentina. And midfielder Justin Mapp is still nursing an injury.

But the Impact have been finding ways to win, or at least get points, no matter who is on the pitch. They built a team−record six−game unbeaten run (4−0−2) in September, although that came largely from Drogba’s seven goals in five starts to earn MLS player of the month honours.

They have not lost since Mauro Biello replaced Frank Klopas as interim head coach.

“This is like a playoff game,” said Biello. “Being able to be successful on the road will dictate how we respond in the playoffs.

“It’s an experience for us now to face a difficult game against a difficult opponent.”

The French−born Lefevre, who received his Canadian citizenship on July 2, as well as midfielders Maxim Tissot and Kyle Bekker were called up for Canada’s friendly match against Ghana on October 13 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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