Impact face defending MLS champions hoping to end winless streak
Thursday, Apr 17, 2014 03:30 pm
MONTREAL - The Montreal Impact will need to show some teeth over the weekend if they expect to register their first win of the season.
The Impact (0-3-3), dead last in the Eastern Conference, are in Kansas City on Saturday to face the defending MLS champions at Sporting Park.
Montreal, one of four winless MLS clubs this season, has drawn three straight after opening its season with three losses.
"Nobody wanted the team to start this way," said defender Heath Pearce, who joined Montreal from the New York Red Bulls in the pre-season. "But that's brought out a little bit of a bite in the team. Though that's never the way you want the team to have that kind of bite, that kind of aggressive mentality."
Pearce hopes the Impact can use their six-game winless slump, the worst start to a Montreal Impact season in its 21-year history, as motivation going into Saturday.
"It's not the most ideal of starts, but we have a good chance to go out and get a result this weekend," he said. "This week's been good and the mentality's been great."
Standing in their way is a strong Kansas City side sitting third in the East with eight points from their first five games. Sporting KC (2-2-1) have only scored five goals this season — only the New England Revolution have fewer — but they've made up for it with stingy defence.
Goaltender Eric Kronberg already has two clean sheets, and Kansas's young back line has only conceded four times so far this season. Two of those goals came late in stoppage time against Seattle and Dallas.
Impact striker Marco Di Vaio, who's scored once in three games since returning from his three-match ban to open the season, says a big defensive showing will be the key to victory at Sporting Park.
"We have to be able to close the play down," he said. "Kansas City is a big team that plays well and puts a lot of pressure. We have to be ready for that. We need to focus on counter attacking, on finding those holes. Kansas is the best team in the league."
Montreal is coming off a poor performance at Olympic Stadium last Saturday against the also winless Chicago Fire. The Impact were slow and uninspired for large chunks of the game, hitting the target only twice in the 1-1 draw.
The team's only goal was from newcomer Jack McInerney, who was acquired by the Impact two weeks ago in exchange for Andrew Wenger. Against the Fire, McInerney played up front with Di Vaio in a two-striker formation, an unusual alignment for the Impact.
Despite the goal — Di Vaio flicked the ball to an onrushing McInerney, who scored on the breakaway — the strikers lacked chemistry for most of the game.
The two will be paired up again on Saturday.
"It was a rough one, but we connected for the goal," said McInerney about his and Di Vaio's rapport on the pitch against Chicago. "Going forward, that's a good sign. It's only going to get better as the season goes along. Making that connection will hopefully lead to more goals."
"The chemistry between any two players will grow during the year," added Di Vaio. "But for me — even for Jack — the most important thing is for the entire team to click."
At the other end of the pitch, Montreal conceded a corner-kick goal to the Fire, the fifth set-play goal the Impact has given up since the start of the season. In training this week, the Impact coaching staff put a lot of emphasis on defending corner kicks.
"Last week, we gave up a goal on a corner," said McInerney. "This week, we need to be really specific on corner kicks. We've worked on things that we know Kansas City is going to do."
The Impact have historically done well when visiting Kansas City; they've won two of three there since joining the MLS. In 2012, Montreal earned its first-ever MLS road win at Sporting Park two months into its inaugural season. The Impact also beat Kansas 2-1 on the road last season.
"It's always that little bit of added confidence when you know that you could go somewhere, as difficult as it is for some teams to go to Kansas City, and know that you've gotten points there before," said Pearce, who was not with the team for those victories.
Neither was head coach Frank Klopas, who joined the team in the off-season. Klopas doesn't think it's time for the struggling Impact to hit the panic button.
"I have confidence in my team," said Klopas. "They know that. We have to go on the field with that kind of confidence, but also understand that it's going to be a difficult moment. And in those difficult moments, we need to stick together as a team."
Notes: Montreal will be without midfielder Hernan Bernardello, who left the game on April 5 against the Red Bulls after landing awkwardly on his right ankle. ... Defender Nelson Rivas is still nursing a thigh injury he sustained during the pre-season. … After three games at the Olympic Stadium, the Impact play their opening game at Saputo Stadium on April 26 against the Philadelphia Union.