Olivier Tremblay covers the Impact for MLSsoccer.com
MONTREAL – The Montreal Impact got into the MLS Playoffs in the midst of their worst run of form in 2013. Now is the time to turn that around.
Truth be told, the fifth-seeded Impact know that they “will not be the favorites,” as assistant coach Mauro Biello put it, this Thursday against the Houston Dynamo. They are going to BBVA Compass Stadium, where they have yet to win in club history, to face an experienced playoff team, the two-time MLS Cup runners-up.
But midfielder Collen Warner was quick to argue that seeding means almost nothing when the playoffs actually kick off, especially in the knockout round – Houston, after all, beat the fourth-seeded Chicago Fire at Toyota Park at this very stage last season. All it takes to beat the odds, as Dynamo forward Will Bruin proved then, is a good start.
“The teams are very close,” Warner told reporters on Tuesday. “Our team is very excited. We feel we have just as much talent as the other teams, and when we put the right foot forward early in the game, it puts other teams under pressure, because we have a good defense. If we can get them behind the ball to begin, it will be a positive for us.”
Yet in a playoff situation where passion ramps up, Houston are typically at their best. Head coach Dominic Kinnear has a knack for rallying his team behind an objective, and the Impact expect a physically demanding game, though it won’t necessarily be studs-up, rough soccer: Montreal and Houston have respectively committed the least and second least fouls in MLS this season.
Montreal insist they must remain true to themselves, but they also feel that they need to match Houston’s intensity. Essentially, they must produce an enhanced version of the early-season Impact.
“We must find a balance between physical play, tactical play and quality,” Biello said. “That’s what will give us the best chances to win. If we go there and simply try to be physical against a team that may be more physical than us, we’ll be in trouble.”
Defender Hassoun Camara concurred.
“We should play according to our strengths,” Camara said. “We’ll work hard for that, and I think we have every quality needed to recover our fundamentals and our state of mind from games such as the wins in Seattle and Portland. We can surprise people and go far.”