Surging Impact face tough test at home against offensive-minded Fire

MONTREAL — Coach Mauro Biello feels the Montreal Impact are hitting their stride at just the right time.

The Impact are looking for their first three-game win streak of the season as they host the Chicago Fire at Saputo Stadium on Wednesday.

It’s the first of four consecutive home games for Montreal in a 17-day span as the team slowly climbs the Major League Soccer standings.

“We’re starting to see a real cohesion on the pitch,” said Biello at training this week. “We’re finally seeing that rhythm we were looking for. A positive energy and the right mentality can propel you towards success.”

Montreal (8-8-6) is seventh in the Eastern Conference and five points out of a playoff spot behind Atlanta United and the Columbus Crew. The Impact have three games in hand on the Crew.

“Obviously being in seventh place is not where you want to be,” said newly signed midfielder Samuel Piette, who made his Impact debut last week. “With the players we have, I’m surprised we’re not higher in the standings. But now confidence is high and that bodes well for the rest of the season.”

Biello’s men are coming off back-to-back wins against divisional rivals, breathing new life into the club’s playoff aspirations. Montreal beat Orlando City 2-1 at home before cruising to a 3-0 victory in Philadelphia.

“We have to build on that momentum,” said Biello. “These are huge games coming up and we want to keep moving up the standings. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to be where we want to be. We have games coming up at home and if we want to make a push, this is the time.”

Montreal’s first big test of the four-game homestand is a revitalized Fire side eyeing top spot in the East.

Third-place Chicago (12-6-5) has one of the most potent offences in the league. The team has scored 45 goals, which is tied for second-best in MLS, just one goal behind leaders Toronto FC. The Fire had fewer goals at the end of their last three seasons.

Chicago has the best goals-per-game ratio in the league, led by forwards Nemanja Nikolic (16) and David Accam (12). Veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger anchors the team in midfield.

“This is one of the toughest teams in the league,” said Impact midfielder Blerim Dzemaili, who scored twice against the Union. “But if we play on Wednesday the way we’ve been playing these last two games, I’m confident we can win. We can’t give these points away.”

Montreal, which has won five of their last six games at Saputo Stadium, is facing Chicago at just the right time. The Fire are going through their worst stretch of the season. They’ve only won once in their last five games (1-3-1) and are winless in their last four on the road (0-3-1).

Nikolic has scored in his last five matches, the longest drought of his young MLS career.

The Impact will be without young phenom Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, who is out with a throat infection.

Quebec-born Piette will make his home debut in front of family and friends. The 22-year-old was solid in midfield against the Union, earning praise from his teammates and the coaching staff. He finished that game with six tackles and two blocked shots.

Argentine midfielder Andres Romero may be available off the bench for the Impact. Romero, who tore his ACL in Oct. 2015, has only played 19 minutes in the last two seasons.

After facing Chicago, Montreal hosts Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC. Then the Fire are back at Saputo Stadium to wrap up the homestand.

“This team understands we can’t just leave points on the table,” said Dzemaili. “We have to win because our opponents are winning. Mentally, we know winning is the only option.”

Notes: Montreal has scored in 17 consecutive home matches in MLS, including the post-season. … The Impact are 5-4-5 all-time against the Fire.

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