Confidence is growing inside the Montreal Impact locker room — and now it will be put to the test.
After posting consecutive wins for just the second time all season — and the first time since late March — Montreal faces a tough task when it hosts Western Conference-leading Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night at Saputo Stadium.
“It’s a good test for us,” defender Chris Duvall told reporters. “Sporting’s been one of the best teams in the league since the start of the season and they’re always near the top. We want to prove that we don’t only win against struggling teams but also against the best.”
The Impact (6-11-0) head into Saturday’s match fresh off back-to-back shutouts against a struggling Orlando City SC side, marking the midway point of the season for Remi Garde’s group. It was the club’s third victory in its past four games, matching its win output in its previous 18 MLS games.
The first half of the 2018 season was a mostly forgettable one for Montreal. Unable to put the ball in the opposition’s net and keep it out of their own, the Impact stumbled through the first two months of the season, allowing 21 goals through the first eight games and scoring just 10.
The offense continues to struggle, but things have improved defensively, conceding just 10 goals in the past nine games — none in the past 252 minutes.
“It’s a mentality. We’ve had the right pieces for a long time, it was just a matter of flipping a switch and wanting to win more than anyone else,” Duvall told the team’s website. “It’s far from finished. We’re still below the red line and we’ve got half the season to go. This is a good start to the second half and we’ll hopefully push to make it to the top.”
Four of Montreal’s wins are on its home pitch, where it will play six of its next nine games.
Sporting KC has been dangerous regardless of venue, failing to collect points just twice in 16 games — once at home and once on the road. The club (9-2-5) came close to suffering its third loss of the season on Saturday against the Houston Dynamo.
Trailing 2-0 at halftime and 3-1 with five minutes remaining, substitutes Diego Rubio and Khiry Shelton led the team to three crucial points in the race for the Western Conference lead and the Supporter’s Shield.
“I’m not concerned about the first half. I’m more angry than anything else because we know that in this league, it doesn’t matter who you play, the effort and intensity has to be there,” coach Peter Verdes told the Sporting KC website.
“And so, the lack of that and making that mistake of not doing anything in the first half, and putting yourself two goals behind, you can’t come back like this every time. So hopefully this winds up being a great learning lesson for us going forward.”
Verdes’ squad arrives in Montreal on a seven-game unbeaten streak (four wins, three draws), during which it has conceded four goals. It has allowed a league-low 16 goals this season and since April is averaging 0.4 goals-against.
Sporting KC is unbeaten in its last six matches against the Impact (four wins, two draws), outscoring them 14-5 during that stretch.