MONTREAL — The Impact should have had a brief reprieve with loved ones in Montreal this week.
Instead of spending time with family, however, players remain at their temporary home in Harrison, N.J., putting in extra training as the Impact (7-13-2) strive to clinch a playoff spot this weekend.
The difficult decision to stay put came Sunday night after Montreal dropped its third game in a row, suffering a 1-0 loss to Orlando City SC. A win would have secured the Impact’s post-season berth.
“There was a lot of disappointment in the locker room after the game against Orlando. We’ve been through a lot and we knew that if we had a victory we would have clinched a playoff spot already. So there was disappointment,” goalkeeper Clement Diop said on a video call Tuesday.
The loss to Orlando heightens the stakes for the Impact’s final game of the regular season against D.C. United (5-11-6) on Sunday.
Montreal currently sits in ninth spot in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, where the top-10 teams will make the playoffs. The Impact are among the five teams are still battling for the final two post-season berths.
“We don’t want to throw anything away. We’ve been through so much. We know that we want to fight for this playoff spot. After that, we’ll see what happens if we make it there,” said Diop.
The ‘keeper said he has also decided against joining the Senegalese national team for Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers next week.
It’s been a season of sacrifice for the Impact, who have played just three games at their home field, Saputo Stadium, in 2020.
The team struggled at the MLS is Back tournament in Florida, winning a single group-stage match before being eliminated by Orlando in the round of 16.
Montreal’s results in the all-Canadian contest at the end of the summer were split, with the Impact posting a 3-3-0 record against Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Then the Impact — and their Canadian counterparts — were forced to move south due to border restrictions.
Living at a hotel in New Jersey, hundreds of kilometres away from family and the comfort of their usual training facilities has proved difficult. Montreal has a 2-8-1 record since the relocation.
The fact that the Impact remain in playoff contention despite all the adversity they’ve faced this season proves that they deserve a spot, Diop said.
“We’ve been working so much. We’ve been working all season for that,” he said.
“It’s been very difficult for everybody, for players, for the staff, for everybody that came here to New Jersey. We didn’t do that for nothing. That’s why I think we deserve to be in the playoffs and that’s why we’re going to fight to be in the playoffs.”
That desire to fight is what kept the club in New Jersey this week, Diop said.
Everyone in the locker room has the same mindset and understands the need to stick together to achieve their playoff goal, he added.
“Everybody is very focused, very determined for the game on Sunday and willing to work as hard as possible,” Diop said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2020.
The Canadian Press