After shutting down one of the top-scoring teams in MLS in the knockout round, the Montreal Impact will have to show they can do it again in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Columbus Crew hope they’re ready to take the next step after last year’s playoff defeat.
Didier Drogba and the red-hot Impact go for their third straight win over Kei Kamara and the visiting Crew on Sunday night in the opener of a two-game aggregate-goals series.
The Impact have been outstanding defensively down the stretch, allowing one goal in a four-game winning streak that has carried into the postseason.
They’re seeking a team-record seventh straight home win following Thursday’s 3-0 victory over Toronto FC in the knockout round. The Reds, tied for second in the regular season with 58 goals, had scored once in back-to-back losses to their domestic rivals.
"If we play like that, we’re unstoppable," Montreal midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker said.
Drogba, Ignacio Piatti and Patrice Bernier scored in the franchise’s first playoff victory. The 37-year-old Drogba, a longtime Chelsea forward, has a team-high 12 goals while helping the Impact go 8-3-1 in his 12 games since making his debut Aug. 22.
Montreal didn’t have Drogba when it pulled out a 2-1 win at Columbus on June 6 and a 3-0 home victory July 11 after only winning twice in the previous nine meetings. Former Crew forward Dominic Oduro had two goals in Montreal after missing the first matchup, while Evan Bush has totaled eight saves over the two matches.
The Impact have done a nice job against Kamara, who finished in a tie for the MLS lead with 22 goals. The star forward has scored once in seven career meetings with Montreal.
Ethan Finlay, who finished with 12 goals after scoring three in his last two games, has found the back of the net once in his nine games against the Impact.
Jack McInerney will face his former team for the first time after arriving in a trade with Montreal on Aug. 4. The forward has two goals and two assists in five games with Columbus, which finished in a tie for second with 58 goals this season.
"They’re probably the best passing team in the league," Impact coach Mauro Biello said. "They’re a team that has a lot of ideas and we’re expecting a difficult game. For us, now it’s about recovery because it’ll be our third game in a week."
Kamara (caution accumulation) did not play Sunday when Columbus beat D.C. 5-0. The rested Crew insist they’ll be better prepared than they were last year when they fell 4-2 and 3-1 to New England in the conference semifinals.
The club hasn’t advanced past the semis since winning its only MLS Cup in 2008.
"We need to build off of last year," captain Michael Parkhurst told the team’s official website. "If we can take anything from last year, it’s that experience from that first game. We need to further the process, and that’s getting out of the next round."
Game 2 is Nov. 8 in Columbus.