MONTREAL â€” The Montreal Impact have had a laborious start to the Major League Soccer season and it won’t get any easier when they visit D.C. United.
The Impact (1-3-4) will be looking to rebound after blowing an early lead in a 2-1 loss at home to Vancouver last weekend when they face D.C. United (3-3-2) at RFK Stadium on Saturday night.
Montreal reached the Eastern Conference final last year but has looked slow and vulnerable this season. The Impact are tied for the worst mark in the conference with 14 goals allowed.
They will face a team that is returning home from three straight road games capped by last weekend’s uplifting 3-1 win in Atlanta.
“The good thing is we have a group that has a lot of experience,” Impact assistant coach Jason Di Tullio said this week. “It’s simplifying our game. If we’re down or up, we have to stick to our game plan.
“With the leadership we have on this team, we’re confident that we will get out of it.”
It doesn’t help that six of the Impact’s first nine games are on the road, where they are 0-2-3 thus far. They will need to correct the defensive lapses that have repeatedly cost them points.
On the offensive side, Montreal also has to deal with the loss of striker Matteo Mancosu, who left in the fourth minute against the Whitecaps and is gone for six to eight weeks with a thigh injury. Veteran Dominic Oduro is expected to move from the right wing to Mancosu’s centre forward position, although the coaches may opt to give 23-year-old Anthony Jackson-Hamel his first start of the season.
If Oduro starts in the middle, Ballou Tabla can play on the right side. The 18-year-old was Montreal’s best attacker against Vancouver, but couldn’t convert on three good chances in the second half.
Jackson-Hamel, who had three goals in the previous two games coming off the bench, replaced Mancosu but had to leave in the 73rd minute with cramps. He said this week he is 100 per cent fit to play.
“We’re looking for consistency in our performances,” said Di Tullio. “Before the last game, we were giving up the first goal so we said, “Let’s get the first goal,’ which we did.
“Now what happens after that? Can we get a good 45 minutes under our belt, where we’re not giving up good chances or losing focus â€” because that’s been costing us. We’re positive because once we can increase that consistency those ties or late losses will turn into points.”
Oduro said it is too early in the season to panic. The Impact are 10th in the 11-team conference, but only four points out of a playoff spot.
“It will be a different story once we start playing home games,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll be having the same conversation.
“It’s a bit tough for us to win when we’re always on the road. It is hard, but we’ve got to win our home games. The game against Vancouver wasn’t a must-win but it was something that would have really boosted our confidence. We’ve got a couple of home games coming up but first we have to go to D.C. and fight.”
After D.C., the Impact have home games against Columbus and Portland. Montreal is 1-1-1 at home this season.
D.C. is also dealing with injuries to veterans like midfielder Patrick Nyarko and defenders Nick Deleon and Steve Birnbaum. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid, the star of the Atlanta win, is listed as day to day with a groin strain.
The Impact have never won in the regular season in Washington, but pounded them 4-2 there in the knockout stage of the playoffs last fall.
“In MLS it doesn’t matter â€” playoffs is a different mentality,” said Oduro. “They went to Atlanta, which has a very tough home crowd, and beat them so you have to respect that.
“But we’ve also gone on the road and done some damage so I hope that instinct kicks in.”
There is help on the horizon for the Impact.
Swiss international midfielder Blerim Dzemaili is to arrive next week from Bologna FC of Italy’s Serie A. Coach Mauro Biello said there is a possibility Dzemaili will play against Columbus if he is fit and has time to train with the team.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press