MONTREAL – How decisive was the 2013 Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic in helping the Montreal Impact earn their first-ever MLS Cup Playoffs spot?
Plenty of educated guesses can emerge in response to that question. For midfielder Justin Mapp, who sidefooted the winner in off the post in the final of the preseason event against the Columbus Crew, it was that tournament which spurred Montreal on to season-opening wins away at the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers.
The points cushion so created would prove crucial late in the year, when Montreal stuttered into the playoffs on the goals-scored tiebreaker over the Chicago Fire.
It would be ill-advised to hope for an identical outcome this season. Aiming for similar consequences to their preseason wouldn’t.
It’s déjà vu for Montreal in early 2014, with two road games: first at FC Dallas on March 8, then seven days later in Houston, the site of their Knockout Round exit last year.
“[The Disney Classic] parlayed us into a really good start to the season,” Mapp told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I think it correlates: We went out West and won two games in two tough places coming off that. Winning that definitely left a good taste in our mouths, and we had confidence going into two tough environments.”
Though Mapp argues that Montreal feel no anxiety over defending their crown, as what matters is gaining fitness and sharpness, some other form of pressure could yet make Montreal tougher to knock off their Disney throne. The Impact players may have few new teammates, but, once more, they have a new coach in Frank Klopas.
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“With a new coach, the players always have that will to show during preseason that they deserve their spot,” said assistant coach Mauro Biello, who witnessed the 2013 Impact’s efforts to impress former boss Marco Schällibaum on their way to the preseason trophy.
Chances already are that Mapp will be starting on March 8, but he’ll seek more preseason heroics nonetheless: There’s another spot for the team to clinch further down the line.