MONTREAL – All of a sudden, the Montreal Impact are flirting with the summit of the Supporters' Shield standings.
For weeks, the Impact struggled. They went five games without a win, picking up points here and there, their games in hand an increasingly vague advantage.
After the past two weekends, it's as if they’d simply been lurking in the shadows. Not only did Montreal pick up successive wins for the first time since early June, but other results went their way, pushing Montreal to second in the Supporters' Shield race, four points behind Real Salt Lake. And the advantage has gone from vague to tangible.
“You look at Salt Lake, and they have three games on us,” goalkeeper Troy Perkins told reporters on Monday. “So it’s up to us. If we get some good results, string a couple of wins together and keep performing well, I think the league and the Eastern Conference are ours to take.”
Getting back on top of the East for the first time since July 13 was a decent first step. The Impact are spending this week there, two points clear of the New York Red Bulls, who unexpectedly dropped all three points at Chivas USA on Sunday, with two games in hand.
As such, a message awaited the players on the whiteboard ahead of their Monday training session: A good team can always make a comeback.
“With their quality, they’ve had that hunger to go back up there, and we have to keep that spot,” head coach and author of that message Marco Schällibaum said. “It won’t be easy this weekend against Philadelphia and then against New England, but I’m confident.”
Schällibaum, for one, never doubted that the team could get back on top. Time and again, the Swiss coach insisted that his “quality team” would bounce back from its slump, which every team goes through at some point during a season anyway.
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Both Schällibaum and his players maintained on Monday that, more than the 5-0 win against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, it was the performance that was a source of optimism. But everyone also agreed that last weekend’s result was not an end in itself.
“It's stimulating because it doesn’t allow you to rest on your laurels, to envision what the playoffs will look like,” midfielder Patrice Bernier said of the Impact’s admittedly slender lead in the Eastern Conference. “Every game must be played as if it were a final: if you don’t pick up a point or three, you can fall down two, three spots.”