Montréal will not earn a second consecutive playoff berth, but the Impact can take a giant step toward a place in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals with a victory over New York tonight (8:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 2, FOX Soccer 2Go).
Jean-Yves Ahern/Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
This year will not inspire fond memories in Montréal. The tumult of last season tumbled into this campaign and wrought havoc on the field. The usual spate of injuries and the unexpectedly severe downturn in form sent the Impact hurtling down the Eastern Conference table and ushered sporting director Nick De Santis out of his job.
In the midst of all of this carnage, the Impact possesses one final opportunity to derive meaning from this lost campaign. The successful defense of the Canadian Championship earlier this year paved the way for yet another CONCACAF Champions League appearance. It is the last and best hope to make something of the season before it fades away.
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Few MLS teams boast the luxury of committing all of their resources to the Champions League cause at this frenetic stage of the calendar. Montréal will muster everything it has tonight against New York (8:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 2, FOX Soccer 2Go) in a bid to ensure the pair of victories against C.D. FAS do not go to waste.
“I know we’re going to be ready because we know how important this next game is,” Montréal coach Frank Klopas said after a 2-1 defeat at New England on Saturday. “For us, the season is not over. More than anything, our fans know that we need the biggest support out there. Come Wednesday, the 11 players that are out there will be ready because they know how important this game is for us.”
Klopas underscored his approach to the assignment with his team selection against the Revolution. Marco Di Vaio and Ignacio Piatti both traveled to Gillette Stadium with their teammates, but the two stars watched from the bench as a reserve-laden side submitted a gritty display against the in-form Revs. The decision to sign under-23 midfielder Louis Béland-Goyette to a Homegrown player contract on Friday and throw him into the fray as a substitute the next night highlighted the desire to protect players for this midweek clash.
Béland-Goyette and his youthful colleagues will likely watch Di Vaio and Piatti take control of the proceedings yet again in a revamped starting XI. It is not the sort of team that picks itself, though. Klopas must assess his options carefully with Felipe and Krzysztof Krol suspended and several other regulars nursing injuries. There is little doubt Klopas will field his strongest possible side against a Red Bulls outfit expected to rotate liberally with Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winners and Supporters’ Shield leaders Seattle poised to visit Harrison on Saturday.
“We have a lot of guys with question marks, and I’ve never been in a situation like this,” Klopas said. “We always plan about three weeks ahead. When we looked at this game (in New England), we knew we were going to make some rotations in the lineup, but not like this. The amount of players that we have out is amazing. We have to see how people are feeling in the next couple of days, and still put the best lineup out there on Wednesday.”
Montréal boasts a group capable of producing a result against the Red Bulls and securing the inside track in Group 3 despite its poor season to date. Recent performances represent a substantial improvement from the dire fare iduring the seven-game losing streak in July and early August. Piatti looms as one of the best signings of the season given his influence since joining from San Lorenzo at the end of that dark period, while Di Vaio remains a poacher of considerable quality even as he contemplates stepping away from the team at the end of the season. There are the inevitable and pervasive concerns about the defense, the exposure on the break and the lapses in concentration, but the Impact enters this affair with ample motivation to correct those ills for one night and figure out a way to procure the points.
“We are going to put our best foot forward and come out with a good performance,” Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush told local reporters on Tuesday. “We’ve put a lot into this tournament. We see this as it’s in our grasp and we have to go out and get it. They are a really talented group up front, but we have just as much talent in areas. We have to go in with confidence.”
Belief matters a great deal to a team preparing for the expected offseason overhaul. There is still something left to achieve with this group before the inevitable turnover, though. It is down to the Impact to figure out a way to move toward the quarterfinal berth looming in the distance and provide at least a little solace as the broader picture evolves in time for next season.
With the circumstances of this season, it’s become the biggest game of the year for us.
Montréal defender Hassoun Camara to local reporters on the importance of the CONCACAF Champions League match against New York at Stade Saputo tonight.