Even after a humbling loss in Toronto, Montreal Impact fullback Daniel Lovitz is eager to face the Eastern Conference-leading New York Red Bulls.
The Impact (10-14-3) play host to the Red Bulls (17-6-4) on Saturday night at Saputo Stadium looking to strengthen their grip on the conference’s sixth and final playoff spot.
Montreal is coming off a 3-1 defeat last week to rival TFC and now faces a New York squad that is unbeaten in its past six games. A 1-0 win over Houston on Wednesday put the Red Bulls into top spot in the east by one point over Atlanta, which has a game in hand.
“After a loss, most people say you want to win the next game, but if you play a weaker opponent it doesn’t really mean as much compared to playing the top team in the East,” Lovitz said this week. “If you can get a good result against that team, it sets a clear standard and precedent for the rest of the games.
“It’s about looking these teams in the eye and playing them straight up because you look at the rest of the games on our slate and I think all of us would say that we really like our schedule, compared to some of the teams we’re competing with.”
With seven games to play in the regular season, the Impact are four points ahead of seventh-place New England, who have two games in hand, and six ahead of D.C. United, who have played three fewer games.
Rather than seeing their position as precarious, Lovitz likes where they are. They play at D.C. on Sept. 29 and close the regular season Oct. 28 in New England.
“We have less volume of games and the difficulty of those game may not being as strong as some of the teams we have to face,” Lovitz said. “So everyone we’re close to and need to beat to get in the playoffs, we’re going to be playing. That’s incredibly important.”
It’s been a busy month for the Red Bulls, who went 4-0-2 in August. New York will be playing it’s fourth game in 11 days and its third in a week.
Against Houston, the Red Bulls made six changes to the starting 11 from their previous game and still managed to win, as Brian White scored in his first Major League Soccer start.
“I watched their lineups and I saw that they had three young players starting in the game,” Impact coach Remi Garde said. “They have a deep squad and they can rotate a lot.
“Six players from the game before, so I don’t expect a tired team. They will be ready, fit for the last of the five they had to play in the last 15 days. I’m not betting on a tired team at all.”
The Impact lost 3-1 in Harrison, N.J. on April 14 in the only other meeting between the clubs this season, with Jeisson Vargas scoring Montreal’s goal from a free kick.
The upside of the loss was that first-year Impact players, who make up much of the starting 11, got an up-close look at the Red Bull stars such as Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer.
“The coaches can prepare and game plan for what the other team will bring, but on game day it always looks and feels a little different,” Lovitz said. “If it’s your first time it can be a little overwhelming.
“I think we’ve seen that a couple of times this year. But in general, we’re focused on us more than anything.”
The Impact are expected to move team scoring leader Ignacio Piatti back to the left wing after using him at centre forward in Toronto. Veteran striker Matteo Mancosu is likely to return to the lineup.
There is a question mark in the central defence as Rudy Camacho took a knock on a knee in training this week, but Garde was optimistic he will be able to play. With Victor Cabrera injured and Zakaria Diallo not yet ready to make his debut, Jukka Raitala would move in if Camacho can’t play.