MONTREAL – The Montreal Impact have learned their lesson.
The Impact begin defence of their Amway Canadian Championship title on Wednesday, as they travel west to take on FC Edmonton in the first leg of the semifinals.
In the second leg of last year’s final, a late goal from Hassoun Camara helped the Impact edge out the Vancouver Whitecaps, granting Montreal its second Canadian title and a second berth in the CONCACAF Champions League.
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But it wasn’t all smooth sailing, as the Impact drew the ire of many of their fans after deciding to leave out most of their starters against Toronto FC in the first leg of the semifinals, helping Montreal’s bitter rivals cruise to a 2-0 win. Propelled by fan protests, however, the Impact stormed back in the second leg, handing the Reds a heavy 6-0 defeat.
Impact coach Frank Klopas assured that he would deploy his best available 11 in Edmonton, despite the short turnaround before the Impact’s next game on Saturday when they host MLS Champions’ Sporting Kansas City at Stade Saputo.
“We just got to see who’s in their best form and put the strongest team out there. With us playing midweek and other teams in MLS are not, it’s a little unfair, but it is what it is. I think things even out. We have to just focus and expect a difficult match.” Klopas said. “I’m going to put the strongest team we have.”
Against an Edmonton team that will be determined to prove its worth against an MLS side, Klopas stressed the importance of his players having the right mentality in the game and not underestimating their NASL opponents.
“We watched two games. We’ve talked to people. Games like this, it’s just about our mentality and attitude, and making sure that’s right. If we think it’s an easy game, we’re going to get ourselves in problems,” Klopas explained. “We have better quality in players, but we have to match their intensity.”
He added: “We know it’s going to be a difficult match; it’s an opportunity for them to play against an MLS team and a chance to be looked at at the next level.”
Montreal defenders Nelson Rivas and Adrian Lopez are the only players officially ruled out of the game, as they continue to make their way back to full fitness following long injury layoffs.
Designated Player Hernan Bernardello is back from an ankle injury, but Klopas explained that he’s uncertain of playing the Argentine given the artificial surface at Edmonton’s Clarke Stadium.
“We’ll see how Hernan does on the turf. I think a lot of his injuries have come because of the turf, that’s also a concern,” Klopas said. “There’s a lot of muscle type of injuries that you can get from the now four months that we’re here on the turf so we just have to be smart with some guys, because it’s a long season.”
Four players from the Impact’s under-23 squad—Amine Meftouh, Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare, Victor Ndiaye and Anthony Jackson-Hamel—have also made the trip to Edmonton, the club confirmed.
Captain Patrice Bernier hopes the Impact can start with a positive outcome and not be faced with an uphill battle in the second leg, as was the case against Toronto the last time around.
“Hopefully, we start the first leg well, and not shoot ourselves in the foot like last year,” Bernier said. “The important thing is to start with a good result.”
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Currently sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in Major League Soccer after eight games, the Impact approach the midweek Canadian clash buoyed by their first win of the season—a 1-0 decision over the Philadelphia Union—in their last outing on April 26.
Back-up goalkeeper Evan Bush, who is expected to start Wednesday’s game, explained that the Impact are hoping to begin a new winning cycle.
“We got that first win out of our way so I think that helps out a little bit and gives us a bit of confidence, but if we can string together a few (wins), that will help us out a lot,” Bush told assembled reporters in the team’s last training session before departing for Edmonton.
The return leg of the semifinal is scheduled for next Wednesday in Montreal.