MONTREAL — If the Montreal Impact hope to make the MLS playoffs, head coach Mauro Biello says his side needs to learn from its mistakes in the first half of the season.
The Impact begin the second half of their campaign with a clash against the Philadelphia Union at Saputo Stadium on Wednesday.
After 17 league games, Montreal (5-6-6) is ninth in the Eastern Conference and seven points out of a playoff spot.
"It’s important for us to go on a run and have a strong second half," said Biello. "In this league, if you’re able to find rhythm at the right time, you can go far."
Coming off a two-week break for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Impact have not played since a 3-1 loss in Houston on July 5.
"It’s a fresh start for sure," said Biello. "Some players got away and are coming back refreshed. We have to have a desire to win. We need to be more aggressive."
The Impact have been inconsistent this season, following promising wins with demoralizing defeats. The team’s longest win streak is two games, though they’ve yet to lose two in a row.
But Montreal’s defending has definitely been its undoing.
The club has conceded 29 goals in 17 games — the highest goals-per-game ratio in the East. They have only kept three clean sheets this year, tied for last in the league.
The Impact also have a bad habit of giving up late goals, conceding nearly a quarter of its 29 goals in the game’s final 15 minutes, including stoppage time.
"Right now we’re not happy with where we are in the standings," said Impact technical director Adam Braz. "We’re very disappointed with the first half of the season. We understand that the status quo isn’t OK. We need to change things and make certain upgrades."
In order to shore up the backline, Montreal landed Jamaican international left back Shaun Francis last week. Braz also confirmed on Tuesday that Montreal is close to finalizing a deal that will bring left-footed defender Deian Boldor on loan from Bologna.
Those changes could bolster a defensive core that lost defender Ambroise Oyongo to a season-ending knee injury last month.
"We’re not where we want to be right now," said veteran defender Laurent Ciman. "We’ve conceded far too many goals. We’re too inconsistent.
"We’re halfway through the season and we’re not in a playoff spot right now, so we have to get going."
Montreal’s first test in the second half is a Philadelphia side just two points ahead of them in the standings. The Union (6-7-5) are unbeaten in their last three games but winless on the road in more than two months in MLS (0-2-1).
The home side will be without Argentine midfielder Ignacio Piatti, who is still dealing with a groin injury. Piatti, who was selected for the MLS all-star game on Tuesday, will likely be back in the lineup on Saturday when the Impact host FC Dallas.
Captain Patrice Bernier and forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel will also miss the game. The duo, along with substitute goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, are with the Canadian national team for the Gold Cup quarter-final against Jamaica on Thursday.
Philadelphia has two players on international duty at the Gold Cup: Andre Blake (Jamaica) and Chris Pontius (United States).
"We’re rested and we’re ready to start the second half of the season," said striker Matteo Mancosu. "We’ve got a different spirit, a combative spirit. We’re ready to give our fans a lot of smiles and many victories.
"The playoffs are our objective."