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Montreal Impact coach Mauro Biello focusing on team mindset

Montreal Impact's Hassoun Camara, left, is brought down by New York Red Bulls' Mike Grella during first half action of the first leg of the eastern conference MLS soccer semifinal in Montreal, Sunday, October 30, 2016.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Trucks rumbled in procession beyond the fence line and waterfront cranes shifted shipping containers a couple of hundred metres away. All in all it formed an appropriate backdrop for the work taking place on the Montreal Impact's immaculate training pitch.

Not that effort in these circumstances is limited to physical exertions and heavy lifting.

On Sunday, Canada's most recent Major League Soccer entry will travel to the not-especially friendly confines of the Red Bull Arena for the second leg of a conference semi-final matchup against top-seeded New York.

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Montreal won its home leg 1-0 against the heavily favoured Red Bulls last weekend and can progress with a draw, or via the away-goal rule (the Impact must score at least one and lose by less than two).

Despite all the talk of attention to detail – defending set-pieces, passing out of the midfield press – coaching at this point becomes an exercise in applied psychology.

"Mindset is the most important thing in terms of my message to the team, in terms of how we prepare, and what we can expect from a game like this," Impact field boss Mauro Biello said this week. "For me this mindset has to be shared by everyone. It's got to be one approach that they all believe in, they're all comfortable with and they all follow."

If fitness and injury mitigation are the primary worry in the postseason – Montreal fans will have been clutching their scarves a little tighter at the sight of forward Didier Drogba leaving the water-logged field early on Thursday – instilling a sense of conviction and keeping 18 heads screwed on straight are a very close second.

"You have to believe that you can score at any moment, in any situation, and that starts with the mindset. If we're able to believe in that, it's the starting point. Then it's about managing momentum and managing emotions," Biello said.

The natural instinct for Sunday's game would be to approach it conservatively, knowing that defensive resolve and the odd negative tactic should be enough to get to the Eastern finals, and perhaps a date with Canadian rival Toronto FC.

Biello's charges are doing everything they can to resist that kind of thinking.

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"We're not going there just to defend. It's football, so you have to play. If we just play we can get that [away] goal, we have a lot of quality," said left fullback Ambroise Oyongo, one of many players who was forced to deal with minor ailments this week.

Drogba, who has been bothered by a wonky back, returned to training this week after a stormy month in which he refused to sit on the substitutes' bench in a playoff-clinching game in Toronto and missed the next three games through injury.

Though the native of Ivory Coast departed before the end of practice Thursday, Biello said he expects the 37-year-old striker to be available this weekend, presumably as a substitute.

Matteo Mancosu, the on-loan Bologna forward who scored the winning goal in the first leg, is also good to go despite a right leg problem, as are defender Laurent Ciman and midfielder Hernan Bernardello.

"It was a big week last week emotionally and physically," Biello said. "This is a week about recovering."

It is also, in the words of striker Dominic Oduro, about "unfinished business."

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Memories remain fresh from last year's second-leg defeat at the hands of the Columbus Crew – a game the Impact lost in injury time to squander the 2-1 advantage gained from a home victory in the first leg.

"We have an opportunity to make up for it on Sunday," Oduro said.

The Red Bulls, themselves no slouches at flattering to deceive in the playoffs, will have something to say about that.

But Montreal is a veteran group, a fact reflected in this week's preparations.

There has been much talk of keeping cool in the face of provocations from the likes of New York's Felipe Martins – a pot-stirrer who once sported Montreal colours – and of correctly gauging the ebbs and flows of the game.

The balance between a counterattacking game plan and defensive complacency is a fragile one, but Biello is firm in his belief his players know how to strike it.

This is a team that can boast the likes of Drogba, he of the Champions League pedigree, Argentine midfield veteran Ignacio Piatti and Belgian international Ciman, who played in last summer's European Championship.

"There's always little discussions that happen about how we want to set up tactically … it helps the players, it helps the coaching staff, it helps the young players," Biello said. "It's healthy. When you discuss situations you find solutions."

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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