The Montreal Impact knows what it has to do to remain in MLS playoff contention: start winning road games.
Standing sixth in the Eastern Conference and five points shy of a post-season berth heading into the final nine games of the season, Montreal will try to double its win total away from Saputo Stadium against the New England Revolution (6-11-5) on Sunday.
Montreal, 9-13-3 overall but only 1-10-1 on the road, enters the match having won two straight and three of its last four. That includes a 2-1 home triumph over the Revolution on July 18.
“We’re playing teams that have games in hand on us so it’s important that we continue on this good stretch,” said midfielder Patrice Bernier, who scored in the last match against New England. “We know we have to be better on the road to get the points we need to move up in the standings and make things tougher for those teams around us that hold games in hand.”
New England saw its winless streak reach five games Saturday, falling 1-0 to Sporting Kansas City. The club has scored twice in that stretch while being shut out three times.
The club’s woes led to the trade of team captain and Revolution mainstay Shalrie Joseph to Chivas USA earlier this month for reserve midfielder Blair Gavin, a 2013 second round draft pick and allocation money.
“They’re in a tough moment,” said Impact coach Jesse Marsch. “How are they going to respond, who are they going to look to for leadership? Those are all question marks. Those aren’t things for us to worry about.
“What’s important is for us to go there, have a good start, keep things tight and handle a game on the road in a good way and push to get a result.”
The Impact have played a league-high 25 games. Fourth-place D.C. United holds a six-point edge on Montreal with four games in hand while the fifth-place Chicago Fire have played three fewer games. Behind them, the Columbus Crew sits in seventh place and trails Montreal by just two points with just 20 games played.
“More than anything, we just need to focus on a game at a time,” Marsch said of his team’s approach during its playoff push. “It’s never easy to win in New England.
“We’ve got to have a good approach, be smart and now make it hard on them and take advantage of our opportunities.”
At such a crucial point in the season, the coach said his team is well aware of the situation it faces.
“Right now, from my end a lot can go unsaid because there’s confidence in the group,” he said. “Everyone fully understands where we are.
“We’ve been through so much this year. The group has a really good belief in each other. Sometimes as a coach you need to stay out of the way more than anything else.”
The team will welcome back forward Marco Di Vaio for the match after the Italian striker was acquitted on match-fixing charges in his native Italy on Friday.
Marsch could also have defender Alessandro Nesta available. The former Italian international has been sidelined with a right knee sprain and the team is taking a cautious approach regarding his potential return.
“We’re just trying to be smart,” he said. “Knowing that it’s going to be on turf and everything else, we’re just trying to evaluate what’s best for him in the moment.
“It’s not out of the question but we’ll see how he progresses.”
On Monday, the Impact will say a brief goodbye to Bernier, forward Evan James and defender Shavar Thomas after all three were called to join their respective national teams Friday. Bernier and James will join Canada for an international friendly against Trinidad and Tobago on Aug. 15 in Florida. Thomas will join Jamaica for its match against El Salvador that same day in Washington, D.C.