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The Globe and Mail

Midseason break gives Impact valuable time to rest, get healthy

Injuries to players such as Ambroise Oyongo, right, who is out for the season, have hampered the Montreal Impact.


It was coincidence that Major League Soccer's midseason break came just as the Montreal Impact reached the halfway point of their regular season.

Most of the other teams have played two or three more games.

Now they want to use the two weeks off to get healthy and rested after a disappointing first half because seven of their next nine games are at home, a stretch that could make or break their season. It starts when they resume play at Saputo Stadium on July 19 against Philadelphia and July 22 against Dallas.

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"It's important. We've got to come out of there with wins," coach Mauro Biello said on Monday. "Without putting too much pressure on the team, that's just what it is.

"We're not in a playoff situation and we believe we should be pushing the front-runners in this league. Now we have an opportunity to do it."

The Impact (5-6-6) sit ninth in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind the Columbus Crew who hold the sixth and final playoff position, with three games in hand. Ten of their first 17 games were on the road, plus two of four Canadian championship games against Vancouver and Toronto.

Between the travel, injuries to key players such as Ignacio Piatti and Ambroise Oyongo and a tight schedule that saw them play six times in the past three weeks, they needed the break.

Midfielder Blerim Dzemaili, who had no off-season between leaving Bologna FC and joining the Impact in May, was given a 10-day holiday and will resume training on Saturday. Veteran starters Laurent Ciman, Matteo Mancosu and Marco Donadel are getting extra rest this week.

The goal is to have the club at close to full health.

"If you look at our team last year, when we got to August, we had everybody healthy," Biello said. "And I remember moments when the reserves were so sharp in training that they helped push the starters at the end to go on that run that we had.

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"We know we're battling through some difficulties here, but now we have to get off on the right foot and get these home games and get ourselves in the pack. Then we start to grow as a team."

Piatti, the team scoring leader with eight goals, suffered an adductor injury in a game in Toronto and may need more time, however.

"The Philadelphia and Dallas games will be cutting it close, but it's not as serious as we thought," Biello said. "He's already running in a straight line without any pain, so if he can get through the side-to-side movements that affect the adductor, he'll be okay."

Oyongo is gone for the season after blowing out a knee on international duty for Cameroon.

The Impact are 4-2-1 at home this season, losing 2-1 to Vancouver and dropping a 3-2 decision to Columbus on Justin Meram's added time goal. Those results, plus blowing a 2-0 lead in a draw with Seattle at Olympic Stadium, are among the factors that contributed to the Impact winning only five of their first 17 matches.

So while they've won their past three home games, home field can't be taken for granted.

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"If we win those games at home we're going to be very high [in the standings], but we have to be focused," defender Hassoun Camara said. "We can't look at it like an advantage because it's tough for us to play at home because we have to make the plays and teams are ready to counter us.

"We have to be smart and focused and then we'll have a good chance to win at home."

To keep the backups busy, the Impact have an exhibition game Wednesday in Ottawa against their USL partners, the Fury. Players who haven't seen much action could get a full 90 minutes to stay sharp and show Biello what they can do. Some veterans will be left at home.

"We talk about [midfielder] Louis Béland-Goyette and Nick DePuy and Michael Salazar up front," Biello said. "It'll do them a lot of good because we'll need everybody by the end of the season."

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