Montreal Impact’s Blerim Dzemaili gestures to the crowd after scoring a goal during the second half of the team’s MLS soccer match against the Philadelphia Union, in Chester, Pa. Riding a three-game winning streak, the Montreal Impact are within striking distance of a playoff position for the first time this season. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Impact can move into MLS playoff position with win over Real Salt Lake

MONTREAL — Riding a three-game winning streak, the Montreal Impact are within striking distance of a playoff position for the first time this season.

A victory against Real Salt Lake on Saturday at Saputo Stadium would thrust the Impact above the red line in the MLS Eastern Conference standings. Montreal is two points away from sixth-place Atlanta, which does not play over the weekend, and two points back of fifth-place Columbus with two games in hand.

“We need to keep going on this streak,” said midfielder Blerim Dzemaili, who has helped revitalize the Impact since joining the club in May. “We cannot make any mistakes anymore. We need three points against Real Salt Lake.

“Hopefully we’re going to be in a playoff spot after next game.”

Montreal (9-8-6) has spent its entire season on the outside looking in. Since going winless (0-2-3) in their first five games of the season, Mauro Biello’s men have languished near the bottom of the standings.

After dropping a 4-0 contest on the road against the New York Red Bulls three weeks ago, Montreal’s post-season fate looked grim. The team was 10th in the East, eight points out of a playoff spot and playing some of their worst soccer of the season.

But consecutive wins against Orlando (2-1), Philadelphia (3-0) and Chicago (3-0) have made Montreal one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

Midfielder Ignacio Piatti has scored four goals during the win streak while Dzemaili has netted another two. The duo’s chemistry on the pitch is one of the reasons for Montreal’s recent success.

“There’s more trust now,” said captain Patrice Bernier. “Guys are passing the ball to each other in tight areas. Before we were in a hurry to play forward and get rid of the ball. We’ve been executing a lot better. If a guy gets beat defensively, someone is there to recover. When you go forward, there are always two or three options.

“We’re in a good place right now and it shows.”

It’s the Impact’s first three-game winning streak in regular season play since Oct. 2015. That’s also the last time Montreal registered back-to-back clean sheets.

“The last three games have been quite good,” said goalkeeper Evan Bush, who has not conceded a goal in 258 minutes. “We got back to who we are. We have our identity back. Overall we’re finding ways to win.”

Real Salt Lake (8-12-5) is making an equally successful push for the playoffs in the Western Conference. The team from Utah is in eighth place, three points below the red line.

RSL are unbeaten in their last six matches (3-0-3), outscoring their opponents 14-6 over that stretch.

Mike Petke’s men have also won three consecutive games on the road, scoring a record 11 goals in the process. Real Salt Lake, which had previously dropped six in a row away from Rio Tinto Stadium, have never won four straight road games in the franchise’s 13-year history.

The visitors will have their hands full at Saputo Stadium, where Montreal has won six of its last seven games. They’ve also scored in 20 consecutive home matches in all competitions dating back to last year.

“At home we get great crowds,” said Biello. “We feel the fans and the energy behind us. Last year we felt like we didn’t perform well at home and we wanted to be much better. Right now we’re starting to put in some solid performances at home.”

Notes: Montreal has struggled against Western-Conference opponents this season, going 1-5-2. … Real Salt Lake has never won a game in Montreal (0-2-1). … This is the only meeting between the two clubs this season. … Petke became RSL’s head coach in April. He is 3-9-3 since joining the club.

Just Posted

City prepares for legal marijuana

Legalized recreational marijuana expected to have impact on many city policies

Council turns down rent subsidies

Request for $50,000 to help fill 12 empty suites in Asooahum Crossing affordable living complex


Waterfront area redevelopment plan to be updated

Red Deer College a top Hockey campus

Expedia Canada ranks hockey campuses

Looking out for neighbours to fight rural crime

Building community to address crime

WATCH Replay Red Deer Feb. 18: Your weekly news highlights

Watch news from Red Deer and Central Alberta

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Ambulance’s slow response time angers family

Woman suffers stroke, waits nearly an hour for ambulance

Over-burdened refugee tribunal ditches legislated timelines for hearings

OTTAWA — The Immigration and Refugee Board is giving up on following… Continue reading

Sheraton Celebrity Dance Off profile: Troy Gillard

** Sheraton Celebrity Dance Off takes place on April 14 at the Sheraton Red Deer

New mobile paramedic program starts in Red Deer

Paramedics provide on-site care to those with chronic conditions

Toddler breaks leg after boot sucked into escalator at Vancouver airport

VANCOUVER — A Calgary woman is reminding parents about the dangers of… Continue reading

Liberals looking at creating use-it-or-lose-it leave for fathers, Trudeau says

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is raising the idea of creating… Continue reading

Trump gets angry about election meddling, but not at Russia

‘Weirdest thing’: Trump expresses anger, but not over Russian election-meddling

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month