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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Montreal Impact optimistic heading into second half of MLS season

MONTREAL - The Montreal Impact want to turn the page on the first half of their season.

After 17 games — the midway point of Montreal's third season in Major League Soccer — the Impact are dead last in the standings with a league-worst 3-9-5 record. The team will be looking to start anew when it takes on the Columbus Crew on the road on Saturday.

"It's a brand-new season," said an optimistic Hassoun Camara. "We didn't do so well in the first part. We were expecting a lot better. We have to do everything to reverse the trend, and we have the players to do so.

"We're technically sound, even more so than many teams in the league. What we need now is to meet those other teams' intensity."

Montreal is tied with the Chicago Fire for fewest wins on the season (3), and only the San Jose Earthquakes have scored fewer times than the Impact (17). The team's minus-12 goal differential is second worst in MLS behind only the Houston Dynamo.

Despite their poor start to the season, the Impact are far from admitting defeat.

"That wasn't an easy half of the year for us," said assistant coach Mauro Biello. "There are still a lot of games, and there's a lot of parity in this league. If we can string together a few good games, we'll be in a good position. We have to work hard, focus on the positive, and go from there."

Though they've picked up just 14 points from 17 games, Frank Klopas' men are still only nine points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Playing in a league where streaking teams can quickly climb in the standings, the Impact are hoping a few positive results will finally get the ball rolling.

"We're only halfway through the season," said striker Jack McInerney, who's scored six goals in 12 games for Montreal. "We've played good soccer lately; we just haven't gotten the results. There are still plenty of points on the table. Going forward, we're going to have to do everything right."

The Impact will start the second half of their season at Columbus Crew Stadium facing a side going through a lengthy rough patch of their own. After starting the season with three wins in a row, the Crew (4-7-8) have only won once in their last 16 MLS matches, and are winless in their last seven.

Columbus, a club known this season for its successful passing and long spells of possession, is coming off a tough midweek loss against Kansas City. On Wednesday, a stoppage-time goal by Sporting's Benny Feilhaber handed the Crew their second loss in a row.

With Saturday's opponents on just two days' rest, McInerney is calling the game against Columbus a perfect matchup for the Impact.

"They're struggling also," he said. "Going in there, we're really going to have to defend, play on the counter, and see what we can get on the break. It's a winnable game, so we have to go into it looking for the three points."

Like the Crew, Montreal wants to move on from a heartbreaking loss against Kansas City. Last Saturday, a defensive mistake gifted all three points to Sporting when defender Heath Pearce and goalie Troy Perkins got their wires crossed and failed to clear a harmless ball away from the penalty box in the 89th minute.

The week before, the Impact conceded a stoppage-time goal to Chivas USA for its first loss since returning from the World Cup break. The Impact had not dropped back-to-back contests since losing its first three to start the season.

On Saturday, Montreal will look to take advantage of a depleted Columbus lineup that lost two of its players to injury in the last couple of weeks.

Crew forward Jairo Arrieta left a July 12 game against the New York Red Bulls with a left hamstring strain, and has not played since. Hector Jimenez, an offensive-minded midfielder for Columbus, sprained his knee on July 4. Both have been ruled out for the game versus Montreal.

Arrieta's and Jimenez's absence will make things easier for an Impact backline that has been showing signs of improvement lately, despite consecutive losses. Montreal has conceded just three times in four games, and has recorded four clean sheets in its last seven in all competitions.

"We're on the right track," said Biello, whose team is the only one in MLS without a road win this season (0-5-3). "Look at our last few games, the team is playing better. If we can do that on the road, along with the quality we have up front, we can get a result. A few draws and victories on the road will give us a good chance to make the playoffs."

That will depend largely on the Impact's offence, which has been stale all season. Montreal has scored more than two goals just once this year — a 3-0 victory against Houston at the end of June. Goals have been especially hard to come by away from home, where the Impact have scored just five times in eight games.

McInerney says Montreal has to start getting more players forward.

"We've put in a lot of work defending, because we had some struggles keeping the ball out of the net," said the 21-year-old. "But too many people are sitting back now. We have to get numbers in the box; it's the only way we're going to create opportunities for the team and create chances."

The Impact and Crew will play each other twice more after Saturday's contest — on Aug. 30 in Montreal, and on Sept. 27 in Columbus.

Notes: Marco Di Vaio, who has found the back of the net twice in his last three games, has three career tallies versus Columbus. The Italian striker celebrated his 38th birthday on Tuesday. … The Crew's last MLS win came on May 24 versus the Chicago Fire. … On Tuesday, defender Adrian Lopez suffered a second ACL tear in his right knee. Lopez, who played just 44 minutes with the Impact since being acquired last July, will be out for the rest of the season. … After missing two games due to a groin injury, Justin Mapp now has two assists in his last three games.

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