With more games played than its playoff-hopeful rivals, the Montreal Impact know they can only control what they does on the pitch. And that's what the team plans to do as it prepares to host a crucial clash against D.C. United on Saturday afternoon at Saputo Stadium.
The Impact (11-13-3) enter the match on a roll, having won four straight after last weekend's 3-1 triumph over the league-leading San Jose Earthquakes. A win and the club moves to within a point of D.C., which holds the fifth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
"It's important to address this game and know that it's important on that end but we've stayed focused on the one game at a time mentality," said Impact coach Jesse Marsch on Friday.
Montreal, well-rested since its last game a week ago, welcomes a United club that will be taking to the pitch for the third time in seven days. On Wednesday, D.C. (12-8-4) snapped a two-game winless streak with a 4-2 victory over fourth-place Chicago. It was just their second win in the last six games and marked the first time since a 3-0 win over the Impact back on June 30 that the team had scored more than one goal.
Yet even with the struggles United had faced and a busy schedule this week, the Impact know they shouldn't expect an easy match.
"It's important that we have a good tempo to the game," said Montreal captain Davy Arnaud. "We know from a lot of experience this year that playing the Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday, it's not easy to do. We know in terms of that physically it could be tough on those guys but we can't expect anything less than a very good game because they know how big this game is.
"It's just as big for them as it is for us."
The Impact are especially aware of D.C. United's attack and propensity to play a fast-paced, open game. The club has scored 41 goals this season, second-most in the Eastern Conference and third in the league overall.
Midfielder/forward Chris Pontius leads the way with a team-high 10 goals, evenly split between home and the road. Six of his goals have been game-winning tallies.
"They have a lot of dangerous guys ... a lot of guys that can make plays," Arnaud said. "The most important thing for us is to play well defensively. We're going to create our fair share of chances and hopefully that can lead to goals."
Italian defender Alessandro Nesta is expected to return from a right knee sprain on Saturday for Montreal. But with one return comes the loss of another, with Hassoun Camara out serving the first game of a two-game suspension.
Nelson Rivas will be sitting out the final match of a three-game ban.
With what's at stake in Saturday's match, an edge to the game is to be expected. But with suspensions taking its toll on the team of late, the Impact are making it a point to know where the line is.
"We've had another discussion as a group about making sure that as much as we're competing and having an edge, that we do it in the right way," Marsch said. "We don't want to put ourselves in a situation where we have a guy suspended, especially down the stretch. We want to feel we have a full complement of players and that we can all continue to move forward."
The Impact have been tough to beat at home, recording nine of their 11 wins overall in the cozy confines of Saputo Stadium. And with last week's win over San Jose, Montreal became the first Canadian MLS club to post 11 wins in a season, eclipsing Vancouver's 10 this season and Toronto's 10 in 2009.
The Impact are also one win away from tying the record for the most by an expansion team in the new MLS expansion era (beginning in 2005). Seattle Sounders FC holds the record of 12, set in 2009.