With the CONCACAF Champions League berth for the Canadian Championship almost impossible to attain, the Montreal Impact look to build momentum through the end of Phase One of Major League Soccer’s revamped schedule as they open a home-and-home series with the Vancouver Whitecaps on the road Sunday.
MLS essentially made the Impact (4-4-1), along with the Whitecaps (3-6-0) and Toronto FC, their own mini-league, with a six-match round-robin that would replace the Voyageur’s Cup that normally determines Canada’s entrant into the Concacaf Champions League.
The Impact controlled their destiny for that berth earlier this week, but a 2-1 loss to the Reds Wednesday night created a near-insurmountable deficit in the three-team standings. Victor Wanyama scored Montreal’s lone goal early in the second half, but a late breakdown off a free kick gifted Toronto FC the go-ahead marker and the inside track to the top spot.
“It’s a tough one. I think we had the game in our hand and we let it slip for no reason,” midfielder Samuel Piette told the Montreal Gazette. “To lose like that, to basically give them the two goals and give them the three points hurts.
“Now we have to go to Vancouver and get the job done, get two wins to try and finish first. It’s up to us now to roll up our sleeves and show that we have character. It was just a little bump in the road. We won’t give up just because we gave away a game like that.”
To claim the top spot, Montreal must sweep this home-and-home set and win the two matches by at least a combined four goals to surpass Toronto FC’s plus-4 margin. That could prove challenging for an Impact side that has totaled 12 goals in its nine matches.
Vancouver also has deficiencies when it comes to goal-scoring, totaling 10 goals in as many contests. The Whitecaps, though, had something to build upon in the week of practice leading into this contest as they defeated Toronto FC 3-2 on Sept. 5.
Jake Nerwinski’s goal on 76 minutes proved to be decisive as Vancouver twice took one-goal leads before being pegged back. The Whitecaps have been feast or famine offensively – eight of the 10 goals have come in three matches – and coach Marc Dos Santos thinks keeping Theo Blair and Lucas Cavallini together up front will help address his offensive needs.
“That’s what you’ll see from the Whitecaps now – playing in a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-1-2,” Dos Santos told the team’s official website Wednesday. “We’re going to focus on doing the little things right, the little improvements we can make, and then in front of goal, it’s just about focusing and executing.”
The Whitecaps are also starting to get closer to full health. Defender Erik Godoy made his first appearance of the season in the win over Toronto, playing the first half before making way for Nerwinski. He started 28 of the 29 matches he played last season, and midfielder Tosaint Ricketts should be available once more after getting a late runout as a substitute.
Montreal won 2-0 in the first meeting between the teams Aug. 25, getting first-half goals from Romell Quioto and Lassi Lappalainen. The teams have split nine all-time meetings, claiming four wins apiece while drawing once.