MONTREAL – And the Impact march on.
With their 3-0 win over Toronto FC in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs on Thursday night, the Montreal Impact reached the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time in their history, joining the the Vancouver Whitecaps as MLS's first two Canadian participants in the Conference Semifinals.
Impact fans are enjoying a run that seemed improbable merely two months ago, when TFC handed Montreal a third straight loss that could have glued them to the bottom five positions in the Eastern Conference.
They’ve gone 8-2-2 since then.
“We got out of a really tough spell, and we’ve had some nice improvement,” forward Didier Drogba told reporters on Thursday night. “Now that we’ve enjoyed some wins, we don’t feel like stopping. We’ll see how far we can go, but we have to be realistic. Looking at the standings from one or two months ago, I think, can keep our feet on the ground.”
The fine team awaiting in the next round can keep an opponent grounded, too. Columbus deserved their bye into the semis, winning 7 of their last 11 games and remaining true to their high-octane style.
“They’re a very good team, probably the best passing team in the league,” Impact interim head coach Mauro Biello said of Columbus after the game on Thursday. “They’re well-coached, they’re organized, especially in their offensive phase. They’re a team with a lot of ideas. We’re expecting a difficult game. For us, now, it’s about recovering, because it’ll be our third game in a week, and it’s important that we recover and get ready for that game.”
Still, this is a series that Montreal will feel they can win, and not just because of their amazing current form.
The Impact won both games against Columbus this season, and important ones at that. The 3-0 home win on July 11 snapped a three-game winless streak, while the 2-1 away success a month earlier was a turning point: For the first time in 26 regular season and playoff road games, Montreal won.
They can’t exactly brag about their historic road form, but the Impact won’t suffocate upon entering MAPFRE Stadium Sunday (7 pm ET; FS1, TSN1, MLS LIVE).
“It’s a good matchup,” said goalkeeper Evan Bush, an Ohio native. “They’re a very good team. They like to play. They’re one of the teams in this league that I can sit down and watch a full game of them and actually feel that they’re trying to do something with the ball. They open up. They’re very good on the ball. They have very good playmakers.
“We’ve also had success against them this year. If we can take the things that we’ve had success with against them in the first two games we played this year, we’ll try to exploit those again.”