MONTREAL – Close the game out.
That's what the Montreal Impact aim to improve on when they host D.C. United at Stade Saputo on Wednesday night (7:30 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS LIVE in US; match preview), because that's what Montreal failed to do in the teams' last meeting.
On May 17, Montreal led 1-0 in the second half at RFK Stadium and were putting together their best road performance of the season. But Eddie Johnson nodded in his first – and, so far, only – goal for the Black-and-Red five minutes from full time.
Since that 1-1 draw, Montreal have, by and large, avoided such situations. They enter the game off of consecutive shutouts, the latest of which secured a CONCACAF Champions League berth. Given the team's current spot in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, even the smaller sample sizes can be encouraging.
“The group sticks together better defensively,” captain Patrice Bernier told reporters on Monday. “We don’t give many chances away. We create the chances and we manage to win tight games. We used to let a point or even all three points pass us by. Now we’re a lot more confident, and there’s a lot more intensity and energy in everything we do.”
Unlike most MLS teams, the Impact will enjoy a true break from competitive action during the World Cup, since they do not play in the US Open Cup, but on the other hand, theirs is the shortest in the league at just two weeks. While last Wednesday’s Canadian Championship triumph at home would have been the perfect send-off, the Impact must instead focus on trying to make up ground in the standings. With that in mind, Montreal have been working on penalty-area defending, among other things, with Johnson’s leaping header in mind.
“We have games in hand, and now we have to continue, especially the games here at home,” head coach Frank Klopas said. “We have to come out with a very strong mentality and attitude, make sure that we continue to do the things we've been doing – the hard work and all that – to get the result. Then we can enjoy the little break. The attitude and mentality has to be right, and you saw that the training session [Monday] from the guys was fantastic.”
One player who did not take part in that training session was Justin Mapp, deserved winner of the Canadian Championship MVP award last Wednesday. Dealing with a groin injury, Mapp made way for eventual goalscorer Felipe at the hour mark in the second leg of the final and looks questionable for Wednesday.
“The good thing is with Issey [Nakajima-Farran], Andrés [Romero], even Felipe, sometimes we can get [them] wide, but Justin, when he doesn’t play, is definitely a guy that you miss, because he brings so much in the final third,” Klopas said. “But we’ll see. It’s day-to-day.”