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.

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