Consider the curious case of the Montreal Impact.
They're sixth in the East and well in contention to reach the playoffs after a rough 3-10-0 start. But with New England, D.C. United and rival Toronto FC on their shoulder wielding games in hand, it's difficult to predict how this will all play out.
Yet, they could still finish the season as the best-placed Canadian side and that would be a small, but significant victory. Despite TFC's struggles, they're coming off a historic domestic treble in 2017, while the Alphonso Davies hype and transfer ensured plenty of domestic and international headlines for the Vancouver Whitecaps. In contrast, Montreal have been quietly chipping away in the background, trying to rectify that difficult start.
This was always going to be a transitional campaign, with Remi Garde taking over for club icon Mauro Biello, and it took time for Garde to settle in.
During the preseason, Montreal lost two center backs to injury (Kyle Fisher and Zakaria Diallo) and were forced into a last-minute scramble for defensive reinforcements during that first transfer window. With Patrice Bernier and Hassoun Camara both retiring, a wealth of experience and – perhaps most importantly – club and league know-how slipped away, too.
By early summer, the losses were piling up and there had been some tough love for the likes of Raheem Edwards and Anthony Jackson-Hamel. The Impact stemmed the bleeding with a 1-0 win over Houston on June 2. That kicked off a 6-2-0 run and they've encouragingly stayed afloat since (1-2-3).
Silly individual errors have largely been eradicated, like Alejandro Silva's misplaced pass in the second-half against Minnesota on May 26 that resulted in the Loons' opener, or the half-hearted challenge from Daniel Lovitz in the same game that allowed Miguel Ibarra the space to curl home a spectacular second. The Impact had allowed three or more goals in five of their first eight games; until Saturday's Heineken Rivalry Week loss at Toronto, they'd done so just once since the end of April.
And Garde, with another transfer window under his belt, has slowly been building the type of side he wants.
Garde wants to dovetail the guile of star winger Ignacio Piatti with the movement of Silva and midfielder Saphir Taider. It worked a treat in the 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Aug. 18, when Taider's pace and trickery led to a foul in the area by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Piatti converted from the spot. Later, it was Silva – on the turn, in transition – who fed Piatti, but his strike went wide of the near post.
Against TFC, the 3-1 result wasn't quite indicative of the contested play, and the Impact could easily have forced a draw. The goal they conjured was another example of that quickness and decisiveness Garde wants in the final third. Silva, so adept in the assist department this season, showed he can finish, too.
But, there's been another refreshing development for Garde: new signing Bacary Sagna.
When the English Premier League veteran arrived in Montreal, his boss highlighted a couple of the fullback's attributes: versatility, technical ability and athleticism.
All three have been evident already. Against Chicago, he hit the ground running and stretched the Fire defense late on, brilliantly setting up Taider for a great chance as the Impact chased a winner. Against Toronto, as the Impact pushed hard to rescue something, Sagna again became an attacking threat, whipping in an excellent cross for Quincy Amarikwa, who forced a top-drawer stop from Alex Bono.
A seemingly bleak beginning has officially given way to a turnaround. Garde has succeeded in changing the conversation. Now it just needs to be finished.