MONTREAL – It would be hard to find a better time for the Montreal Impact to get on a roll than now.
Coming off an impressive 0-0 draw in Vancouver despite a depleted squad, the Impact face the slumping Houston Dynamo on Sunday night.
Houston is missing its star midfielder Brad Davis, who is in Brazil with the U.S. World Cup squad, while their scoring ace Will Bruin is doubtful to play due to a hip pointer. However, they may have midfielder Boniek Garcia back now that Honduras is eliminated from the World Cup.
And the Impact have a history of playing well against the Dynamo in Montreal, having beaten them 2-0 and 5-0 in two meetings last season at Saputo Stadium, even if they fell 3-0 in Houston in their first Major League Soccer playoff game in October.
“Coming back from the break and having a good result on the road was positive,” coach Frank Klopas said this week. “Now we have to follow that up because it’s about being consistent.
“It doesn’t do anything for us if we don’t follow it up with a good result on Sunday.”
The 2-7-5 Impact, last in the 10-team Eastern Conference, need to start winning soon to avoid falling so far back in the playoff race they won’t be able to recover in the second half of the 34-game season.
Circumstances seem to be on their side against seventh-place Houston, which has lost its last four league games by a combined 10-0.
Montreal will have midfielder Felipe back after missing the Vancouver game while his wife gave birth to a son. Their top midfielder this season, Justin Mapp, and striker Marco Di Vaio may be ready to return from injuries.
They will be without Canadian midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran, who injured a hamstring on the synthetic surface in Vancouver.
“With these guys coming back, it will give us an opportunity to make a couple of changes,” said Klopas. “Having everyone ready as we start the second part of the season is a positive.”
The Vancouver game saw centre back Matteo Ferrari return from injury with a strong outing, and Spanish midfielder Gorka Larrea was impressive at the back of the midfield beside captain Patrice Bernier in his Impact debut.
Larrea played the position formerly held by designated player Hernan Bernardello, who is set to join Mexican club Cruz Azul.
“It was nice,” said Bernier. “He’s been here a while even though he’s just signed, so it feels like he’s part of the family.
“He’s a hard worker. He plays simple, moves the ball well. It was easy to play with him. It’s a first game and we just scratched the surface of what he can do.”
The Impact felt ready to start turning their season around just before the league’s two-week World Cup break, but suffered a crushing 4-2 loss at home to D.C. United on June 11.
Now they’ll try again against Houston, which hopes to have some injured players back as well.
But the main missing piece is Davis.
“It’s a difference,” said Klopas. “You have a high quality player.
“His service for set pieces and dead balls, his ability to deliver quality balls in the box that are very dangerous. You take a piece like that out of the equation and it’s not the same. But Dominik (Kinnear) is an excellent coach. Their team will be committed and they are a very good side.”
Garcia is expected to join the Dynamo in Montreal and Klopas expects him to be ready to play, even if he is still smarting from an early exit in Brazil.
Klopas has been moving players on and off the roster in a bid to add depth at every position and find a squad he’s comfortable with. More moves were made this week when veteran left fullback Krzysztof Krol was signed and Haitian defender Meshack Jerome was let go, although Krol won’t officially join the team until July 8.
The club is also looking at signing another designated player, attacking midfielder Ignacio Piatti of Argentina, although there was no news on that front this week.
Klopas just wants to start winning soon.
“We were in a good spot before the D.C. game and now we can’t let moments like this slip by,” he said. “We have games in hand.
“With one or two wins we’re right in the pack with the rest of the teams fighting for a playoff spot. We have to make sure we close the gap. We can’t keep falling back.”