Montreal making a (big) move as MLS season winds down
The North is making noise in the East.
And no, it’s not Toronto FC.
The Montreal Impact are unexpectedly in the MLS playoff picture after a steady climb up the standings.
The Impact plummeted to second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference in the 12th week of the season. But they currently sit in sixth — and just above the line for postseason contention. They’re five points in front of seventh-place D.C. United, their opponent on Saturday at Audi Field.
“I think the confidence in the guys is only growing, and we’re really coming together over what we know we’re capable of,” said forward Quincy Amarikwa, who was acquired in August.
After failing to make the playoffs last season — a year after reaching the Eastern Conference finals — the Impact dismissed coach Mauro Biello. Additionally, four players retired, including fan favorite Patrice Bernier and Andres Romero. Laurent Ciman was traded to LAFC.
Former Aston Villa manager Remi Garde was hired as head coach and first team director of player personnel to restart the club. The Impact also added central midfielder Saphir Taider, who played for three seasons with Bologna.
The results came slowly and the Impact lost 11 of their first 15 games. The team was overly dependent on veteran midfielder Ignacio Piatti.
The turnaround has included eight wins and four draws in the last 15 matches, including last week’s 1-1 draw against NYCFC that denied New York City a chance to clinch a spot in the playoffs. The team started September with a decisive 3-0 victory at home over the Red Bulls followed by a 4-1 road victory over the Philadelphia Union.
Garde, however, spent last week warning that Montreal should not be complacent.
“Right now we’re getting a lot of praise. Probably too much. Yes, the team has improved a lot this year,” Garde said. “But in this league, praise is useless when a couple of bad results can change everything.”
The Impact have four matches left — two home and two away — to secure their postseason spot.
For comparison’s sake, Toronto FC won the MLS Cup last season and currently sit in ninth place in the East, out of the current playoff picture. The Vancouver Whitecaps are in the eighth spot in the West, and on Tuesday dismissed coach Carl Robinson.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Kind of a no-brainer, but the top two teams in the East, Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls, meet Sunday at Red Bull Arena.
An Atlanta victory would cement the Union’s spot in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League. And it’s always fun to watch Josef Martinez, who already broken the league’s single-season goal record and now has 30 and counting.
Atlanta is also closing in on the single-season points record. With 63 points and four games to go, the United are within reach of Toronto FC’s record of 69 set last season.
The Red Bulls won’t have top goal-scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips because of yellow card accumulation.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Philadelphia Union forward Jay Simpson earned Player of the Week honors after scoring both goals in Philadelphia’s 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City last Sunday. It was Simpson’s first start of the season.
ROBINSON OUT: The Whitecaps surprised many with the dismissal of coach Robinson before the season had wrapped up. Vancouver is outside playoff contention with five games left.
The move came Tuesday following Sunday’s 2-1 loss at home to FC Dallas. The Whitecaps players were told before practice.
Kendall Waston told reporters afterward he was unhappy with the decision.
“I was thinking five games to go, if it was the right moment. Personally, I don’t think it was the right moment, but I’m not in charge of the club. I’m just a player, I’m just an employee,” the team captain said. “I don’t agree, but it’s my personal opinion.”
Forward Kei Kamara called the decision shocking, adding that players should have won games.
“We should feel responsible as players because they gave us the chance to prove them right, day in and day out, and in games,” Kamara said.
Craig Dalrymple, the technical director of the Whitecaps FC Academy, will serve as interim coach.