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Montreal Impact defender Hassoun Camara joked that the team had to head to the gym to avoid being overpowered by Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore, but they knows the big striker’s physical play, plus Sebastian Giovinco’s elusiveness, are things they will have to watch for. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Montreal Impact defender Hassoun Camara joked that the team had to head to the gym to avoid being overpowered by Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore, but they knows the big striker’s physical play, plus Sebastian Giovinco’s elusiveness, are things they will have to watch for. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Despite officiating issues, Impact ready for second leg of East final Add to ...

After Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore shoved defender Victor Cabrera to the ground before setting up a Michael Bradley goal, he called it a “love tap” and suggested the Montreal Impact defender spend more time in the gym to be able to stay on his feet.

The second-half strike in the opening leg of the MLS Eastern Conference final last week turned out to be a big one as, although the Impact won 3-2 at home to take the lead in the two-game series, Toronto’s two late goals gave them the momentum going into the second leg on Wednesday night at BMO Field.

The Impact felt Altidore’s push should have been called a foul.

But when asked on Monday how the TFC’s big striker can be stopped, defender Hassoun Camara smiled and said “we go in the gym, like he said.

“We don’t have to react to that. He can say whatever he wants. Everyone knows it was a foul and the referee made a mistake on this action. So there’s no excuses. We’ll go there and show we’re ready to fight again and we’ll see who will be in the final.”

Actually, the referee in Montreal, Armando Villarreal, may have done both sides a favour by keeping the yellow card in his pocket throughout the game as both teams had players, including Altidore and Camara, who had already seen one in the playoffs and were in danger of missing the second leg if they were shown another.

There will be no such inhibition in the second leg, as cards won’t be carried over for the MLS Cup final against Seattle on Dec. 10. That could make for an even more physical game.

Camara was also irked at how TFC’s elusive star Sebastian Giovinco was able to draw free kicks at seemingly the slightest touch near the 18-yard box.

“There were some easy calls for them,” the French-born fullback said. “I’ve never seen that, [what] the referees reserve for Giovinco around the box.

“It’s like they want to see a free kick. The referee is always right in his decisions. We respect that, but sometimes when you see that you can ask yourself something.”

Camara left the game with an injury in the 81st minute after being bowled over by Altidore, but said the Impact can’t dwell on what the officials may or may not call.

“You can cry and say the referee doesn’t like our team or you can fight through and show on the field you’re the better team,” said Camara, who returned to training Monday. “We can say there were decisions from the referee that, for me, weren’t very good for us, but we don’t use that as an excuse.”

Instead, they hope to hold Giovinco off the scoresheet for a second straight game, no mean task considering the Atomic Ant’s 21 regular-season and playoff goals this year, and contain Altidore in front of the net.

The Impact did well in the opening leg to take a 3-0 lead in the first 53 minutes, but Altidore scored on a 69th minute header and then fed Bradley in the 73rd to give Toronto two all-important away goals, which would be the tiebreaker if TFC can win by 1-0 or 2-1.

Toronto will likely storm out of the gate looking to even the aggregate score, which may play into Montreal’s strength as a strong counter-attacking team.

As for fouls, coach Mauro Biello said they are part of the game.

“Staying on our feet is important,” he said. “Having double coverage on a player like [Giovinco] is important.

“Communicating. Understanding. What the referee does is something I can’t control other than slipping a little note to the fourth official saying I’d like that same foul called on [Impact star] Ignacio Piatti. But in the end, the refs are in control of their decisions. What we can control is how we handle not giving up those kind of fouls.”

Biello feels his team had a letdown after taking a three-goal lead and will need to maintain its focus, despite the hostile crowd.

It may help that the Impact won in Toronto for the first time in MLS in August, pulling out a 1-0 victory on a Piatti counterattack goal despite playing with 10 men after Calum Mallace was sent off.

“It gives you a boost as a player because you can say we did it here before,” he said.

Impact forward Didier Drogba missed a second day of practice with a flu, but is expected back on Tuesday and should be fit for the game, Biello said.

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