Impact’s strong form to be tested during tough road trip


Montreal Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti celebrates. (Paul Chiasso/CP)

MONTREAL — The solid form shown by the Montreal Impact since the start of June is about to be tested on a challenging West Coast road trip.

The Impact (9-12-0) meet the Portland Timbers (8-3-6), who are unbeaten in their last 12 Major League Soccer games and who are 5-0-2 at Providence Park, on Saturday night. They will stay in Oregon before heading north for the second leg of their Voyageurs Cup semifinal in Vancouver on Wednesday.

After a 3-10 start, the Impact are 6-2 in their last eight league matches and are coming off a 1-0 first-leg cup win at home over the Whitecaps.

“The most important thing is to focus on the next challenge in front of us,” said fullback Daniel Lovitz. “Right now it’s Portland and then it’s Vancouver and then we come up against another good team (first-place Atlanta on July 28).

“We try not to look forward too much but we know that this month will move very fast and will benefit us and test us in different ways, but will allow the team to give a chance to a lot of different players to get involved in games. We will move forward as a group and make sure that what we’ve put together in the last two months is not for nothing.”

Usually, the Impact have a week between games, but the Portland match will be their fifth in a stretch of seven over 22 days. Most MLS teams are busy this month balancing league and cup matches.

Being on the road for an extended period is rare, but may give the Impact a chance for some team bonding. Coach Remi Garde and most of his staff as well as several key players are in their first season in Montreal.

“It will be a good experience for the group,” said Lovitz. “Portland’s a special place to play.

“They’re on a good run of form lately. It’s an exciting time for us.”

Garde, a veteran coach who made his name with Lyon in France, is no stranger to heavy schedules or big matches and hopes to use that experience to keep his club ready for what lies ahead. Losing the next three games would be a disaster, but getting positive results would boost their chances of making the MLS playoffs and keeping their cup hopes alive.

“I’ll will try to be attentive to everything: nutrition, diet, recovery,” said Garde. “In France we call that invisible preparation. That includes everything done off the field. The more that games are packed together, the more important health and physical conditioning are to players during a game.

“In France there are two national cups, European cups and the regular season. I’ve managed seasons of more than 55 or 60 games. We have some experience on what we can ask of players, understanding that here the travel is longer and there are time zone changes. We hope to take all that into consideration.”

Since June the Impact have played a more structured game and have looked better on defence and on attack. Having veterans Rod Fanni and Rudy Camacho to anchor the back line has helped. Right-side forward Alejandro Silva’s play-making has been impressive after a slow start, while Lovitz at left back and Saphir Taider in the midfield have shown more attacking flair.

And midfield star Ignacio Piatti, with 10 goals, has rediscovered his scoring form.

HOT TIMBERS —Portland started the season 0-3-2, but have gone 8-0-4 since April 14. However, they are coming off a 3-2 loss in U.S. Open Cup play Wednesday at Los Angeles FC.

UNBEATEN RUN — Portland’s streak is its longest since they went 15 games without a loss in 2013.

CLEAN SHEETS — The Impact allowed only one goal in their seven wins since the start of June.

ROAD WOES — Montreal is 2-9-0 away from Saputo Stadium this season.

EXHIBITION GAME — The Impact will play their USL partner, the Ottawa Fury, in Ottawa on Sept. 7.

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