MONTREAL — After a nasty and unsuccessful Voyageurs Cup clash with rival Toronto FC, it’s back to regular business for the Montreal Impact.
In this case, it’ll be the battle to get out of last place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference when the Impact (4-5-6) face D.C. United (5-9-3) on Saturday night at Saputo Stadium.
However, they will be without their scoring leader Ignacio Piatti, who left Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in Toronto with an adductor injury. The Argentine midfielder is awaiting results of an MRI scan to determine how long he will be out of action.
“It’s a big challenge for us, losing him,” said coach Mauro Biello. “He’s our best player in terms of what he brings offensively, but it’s an opportunity for others to step up and show they deserve more minutes.”
They are also without captain Patrice Bernier, forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel and backup goalkeeper Max Crepeau, who have joined Canada’s national team for the Gold Cup tournament that opens July 7 in New York.
The two-game Canadian Championship series was an emotional ride for the Impact, who played TFC to a 1-1 draw in which Piatti missed a penalty kick in the home leg and lost the second leg at BMO Field on an added-time goal from Sebastian Giovinco. Both games produced controversial calls, physical play and injuries on both sides.
In between the two games, a thoroughly flat Montreal side suffered its worst league defeat of the season, 4-1 at Columbus.
They don’t want the same letdown against D.C., the league’s lowest-scoring team with just 12 goals in 17 games.
While Montreal and D.C. are tied with 18 points, United is listed ahead because they have one more win.
But the Impact feel they should be higher in the standings. They have played two fewer games than D.C. They have also played nine of their 15 games away from home. And their only away victory this season was a 1-0 decision May 6 in D.C.
“It doesn’t mean anything because we respect every team,” defender Hassoun Camara said. ”We’re not in a position to say this team is easy to play and that team is very tough to play.
“I know this league. I’ve been seven years here and every game’s very difficult. We have to be focused and do everything not to concede goals.”
Especially against D.C., whose star keeper Bill Hamid was sensational in his last two visits, although he was called up to the U.S. Gold Cup squad this week and won’t play. Travis Worra will likely start in Hamid’s place.
The Washington side won 1-0 in Montreal in 2015 despite being outshot 25-1. Last season, the teams played to a 1-1 draw in which Hamid made three highlight saves.
Even with Hamid unavailable, Montreal goalie Evan Bush is wary.
“Every year it seems they’re in the same position,” said Bush. “They start out slow and then they go on a roll where they win four or five in a row and get into the playoffs.
“We don’t want to be the team that gets them started them on a roll. We need to take them seriously. But if we approach the game the way we should, we feel good about our chances.”
D.C. is also the team Montreal beat 4-2 in the knockout round of the playoffs en route to last season’s conference final.
Bush said the high-energy cup series with TFC may have been good for the Impact, if only to shake them out of any mid-season doldrums.
“Hopefully it reminds everybody of how we need to play week-in and week-out,” he said.
The Impact haven’t won since a 1-0 decision over the New York Red Bulls on June 3. Since then, between league and cup matches, they are 0-2-3, with four of the matches on the road.
Biello has decisions to make on his lineup. If he puts teenager Ballou Tabla in Piatti’s spot on the left wing, he will have two usually right-side guys playing on the left, as Chris Duvall has already moved to right back with lefties Ambroise Oyongo and Daniel Lovitz both out with knee injuries. Speedy forward Dominic Oduro could also get back in the lineup.
Lovitz was back on his feet this week after suffering two deep gashes in a knee, which required a total of 11 stitches to close, during a freak fall in the first leg against Toronto, but he will need time before he’s ready to play.