MONTREAL -- Ignacio Piatti is eager to make his mark in his second straight appearance in the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.
The 31-year-old Argentine midfielder hopes to help the Montreal Impact improve on their playoff performance last year, when they lost their Eastern Conference semifinal against Columbus Crew SC after Piatti scored a Knockout Round goal in a 3-0 win against Toronto FC at Stade Saputo.
Piatti's opportunity to make a strong second playoff impression gets underway Thursday night, when Montreal plays D.C. United in a Knockout Round playoff game at RFK Stadium (7:30 pm ET, UniMás in US, TSN1, TSN5, RDS2 in Canada).
"It's a very big game," Piatti said this week. "For me, it's very good to play this game. I think the season starts now. It's one game, if you lose, you go home, you're out. It's very important for us to go there 100 percent focused as a team and play a big game, and I'm very confident."
Piatti's team-leading 17 goals finished tied with Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC for third in the MLS during the regular season, and nearly doubled his goals total from 2015.
"All the big players want these moments," Montreal coach Mauro Biello said. "These moments define careers sometimes, and Nacho's had a very good career up until now in South America. He's come here and has made his mark, and now it's an opportunity in a playoff setting to really establish himself as one of the best players in this league. He's ready for it."
Biello hopes Piatti gets due consideration in this year's MLS MVP voting.
"I think everybody is aware of how good he is, even around the league, just speaking to different coaches and he always comes up in the conversation of how good he is and how difficult he is to neutralize," Biello said. And I think when it comes to MVP, obviously there's a panel there and they decide. For me he's had MVP-type numbers as a midfielder.
"That's what to me is impressive and I think that maybe needs to be in the conversation a little more when they start to discuss the MVP. Because [David] Villa and [Bradley] Wright-Phillips are forwards, while Nacho is defending as a midfielder. To be able to score all those goals is quite an accomplishment."
And Piatti is ready to show he's capable of rising to the challenge of performing in big games.
"It's a one-game final," Piatti said. "The regular season is a lot of games, 34, and now it's one game and I like playing these games. We played in the CONCACAF [Champions League] and did really well, and I think the whole group is ready for these games."
He scored three goals and had two assists while starting each of Montreal's six games in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League knockout rounds, which saw the Impact lose in the final against Mexico's Club America. Piatti has also had experience in South America's Copa Libertadores tournament, helping San Lorenzo take the continental title in 2014 before joining the Impact.
"Come playoff time, the intensity rises and now it's the real game," Biello said. "The big players, it's the stage for them to shine and obviously we want our big players to come out and give us what they can to help us win this game, and I feel like that's important. And a guy like Nacho has had an excellent season, and you know he remembers last year and how it ended, and I'm sure this year he wants to be ready and make the best of it and help us get on a run."