Montreal Impact looks to solidify playoff position against New York Red Bulls

Montreal Impact looks to solidify playoff position against New York Red Bulls

Main pic: Montreal Impact’s Johan Venegas, right, challenges New York Red Bulls’ Karl Ouimette during second half MLS soccer action in Montreal, Wednesday, August 5, 2015. The Montreal Impact make up a game in hand on the teams chasing them for a Major League Soccer playoff spot Wednesday night against the New York Red Bulls, and things could get nervy in the last three weeks of the regular season if they don’t come away with at least a point. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact make up a game in hand on the teams chasing them for a Major League Soccer playoff spot Wednesday night against the New York Red Bulls, and things could get nervy in the last three weeks of the regular season if they don’t come away with at least a point.

A chance to clinch a playoff spot was wasted on Saturday with a 2-1 defeat in Orlando. The Lions, as they are known, moved to only one point behind Montreal but with two more games played.

If Orlando wins its final two games, the Impact have to win at least two of their last four matches, three of them on the road where they are 2-8-4 this season.

“I hope we can respond,” said Mauro Biello, who lost for the first time in seven games since replacing Frank Klopas as head coach. “We had a difficult performance last game and now it’s about bouncing back.

“Good teams are able to do that.”

After facing Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J., the Impact play Saturday at high altitude against in Colorado, their third game in eight days, even if the Rapids are last in the Western Conference.

The Impact (12-12-6) are up against the first place team in the Eastern Conference in the Red Bulls (15-9-6), who are 10-3-2 at home.

But New York was also caught in Orlando’s recent surge, losing 5-2 at home to them on Sept. 25 before rallying with a 2-1 victory over Columbus on the weekend.

The team run by Jesse Marsch, the Impact’s first coach in MLS in 2012, no longer has big name stars like Thierry Henry in its lineup, but has been playing winning soccer all season.

“To me, it’s one of the most consistent teams in the league,” said Biello. “They’re a high-tempo team, a team that presses high.

“We expect them to be ready for us and we need to be ready for them.”

Now it is Montreal that has the big name player in Didier Drogba, who played only the final 31 minutes against Orlando because he has trouble dealing with artificial turf.

That won’t be a problem against New York, and the former Chelsea striker, averaging a goal per game in his first seven MLS matches, is available to start.

Montreal will also have its top midfielder Ignacio Piatti back after missing three games to attend to a family matter, but has lost midfielder Johan Venegas (Costa Rica) and fullback Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon) to international duty. Canadian Maxim Tissot is also away with the national team.

Having starters in and out of the lineup has become routine for the Impact in the last month and they are 4-1-2 in that span.

“When you’re missing players who play regularly it’s not easy but this team’s depth has been tested and has shown it’s true colours,” said captain Patrice Bernier. “People have responded well.

“We have to keep doing that.”

They caught a break when Belgium agreed not to call up Montreal’s best defender Laurent Ciman.

“Normally I wouldn’t be here,” said Ciman, who finds it “bizarre” that MLS doesn’t shut down for regularly scheduled international breaks as leagues in other countries do. “Most of the teams are losing their best players and the teams have to deal with that.”

Midfielder Kyle Bekker was also called up by Canada but stayed back due to an undisclosed injury.

Seldom-used midfielder Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare was loaned to the Ottawa Fury of the NASL for the remainder of its regular season and playoffs. Gagnon-Lapare is currently with Canada’s under-23 team, which is trying to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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