The Montreal Impact are in control of their own playoff destiny ahead of Saturday’s regular-season finale in Toronto.
A win would give Montreal its first-ever Major League Soccer post-season appearance. A draw or a loss would mean the Impact will need some help to get in.
Montreal (14-12-7) hopes to build on the momentum from last week’s 2-1 come-from-behind victory against Philadelphia when they close out the campaign Saturday at BMO Field.
“It’s a final, a real final,” said Impact striker Marco Di Vaio. “If we win, we’re in the playoffs — what we’ve been working for all year. We deserve to be there because of the work we’ve put in, what we’ve shown on the field.
“We know it’s a very important game. We know how difficult it will be.”
The Impact were held off the scoresheet four times during their recent six-game winless streak. They’re hoping the dramatic victory over Philadelphia is a sign of better things to come.
“Spirits are high,” said assistant coach and former Impact player Mauro Biello. “It was a big win for us. Psychologically, it did a lot.
“We need to bring that to Toronto. We’re expecting a battle. Things are in our hands. If we’re able to get a good performance, our chances will be a lot better to make the playoffs.”
If the Impact beat Toronto (5-17-11), they will finish third in the Eastern Conference and secure a spot in the conference semifinals.
A draw would eliminate Montreal only if the Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution and Chicago Fire each win their final games. If the Impact lose, they would miss the playoffs if Houston and New England win, and if Chicago gets at least one point.
The top five teams in each conference will make the playoffs. The fourth- and fifth-place teams will face off in a one-game knockout round.
With so much at stake, the Impact would prefer if all teams played their final games at the same time, on the same day. But there are only four games scheduled for Saturday.
The remaining 10 teams, including the Fire, Revolution, and Dynamo, all play on Sunday.
Di Vaio is worried that some teams could make tactical changes based on Saturday’s results.
“They have an advantage,” said Di Vaio. “We play before everyone else. I don’t understand why. It’s harder for us. It’s something the MLS will have to change next year.
“But we can’t think about those things. We have to think about ourselves now.”
The Toronto pitch has not been kind to the Impact. Montreal is winless at 0-4-3 in all competitions at BMO Field.
“We’re aware that we’ve never won there,” said Biello. “We’re going there to get results. We’re looking to win.
“It’s important that the mentality stays the same of not giving up goals on the road. And if we defend well, we’ll create chances. That’s the mentality and the message.”
Midfielder Patrice Bernier and defender Jeb Brovsky are questionable for Saturday’s game. Bernier is nursing a hip injury and Brovsky broke a toe a few weeks ago.
The Impact will also be without veteran defender Alessandro Nesta.
The former Italian international was injured in the win over the Union. Nesta walked off the pitch in the 89th minute with a right calf injury and didn’t train with his team during the week.
He could be replaced by 23-year-old Wandrille Lefevre in the backfield.
“We’ll see,” said Lefevre. “I know they’re happy about my most recent performance. It looks like a logical choice, but there could be other plans.”
Lefevre, a product of the Montreal Impact Academy, replaced Nesta for the final minutes of play against Philadelphia. He also played a full game against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Oct. 16.
“I’ve done well, I’ve gotten good comments from coaches and players,” said Lefevre. “It seems coherent to say that I’ll play. But nobody has told me that yet.”
He would relish the opportunity of playing in such an important game against such a big rival, even though Toronto has long been out of playoff contention.
“Toronto has been in the league seven years and they’ve never made the playoffs,” he said. “They definitely don’t want Montreal to make the playoffs in their second year. They’ll do everything to spoil our party. But we’ll do everything to make sure a party takes place.”
Toronto says all the pressure is on Montreal.
“Big game, big game for Montreal (with) playoff ramifications,” said assistant coach Fran O’Leary. “We’ll just look to take care of ourselves, hopefully finish the season with a good performance and a win.”
“They’ll have some nerves if we score first .,. If they score first, it may settle them a wee bit,” he added. “So for us we’ll want to come out flying.”
Toronto has goalkeeper Joe Bendik and midfielder Jeremy Hall back from suspension with winger Bobby Convey also available after being sidelined with an ankle knock. Midfielder Darel Russell is questionable with a muscle strain.
Striker Danny Koevermans (calf) and midfielder Matias Laba (toe) are still out. Fullback Richard Eckersley, destined to leave at the end of the season because of the size of his contract, will once again be frozen out of the match day 18.
The game likely marks the final Toronto chapter for Koevermans, Eckersley and goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
With files from Neil Davidson in Toronto