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Sports Zurkowsky: Floundering Impact remain in playoff hunt despite recent slide

15:45  02 november  2020
15:45  02 november  2020 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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With two victories in its last 12 games, the argument can be made the Impact doesn’t deserve to make the Major League Soccer playoffs for the first time since 2016.

a man holding a football ball on a field: Orlando City forward Matheus Aias (99) kicks the ball as Montreal Impact defender Rudy Camacho (4) defends in front of midfielder Junior Urso (11) during the second half at Red Bull Arena Nov. 1, 2020. © Provided by The Gazette Orlando City forward Matheus Aias (99) kicks the ball as Montreal Impact defender Rudy Camacho (4) defends in front of midfielder Junior Urso (11) during the second half at Red Bull Arena Nov. 1, 2020.

But with 10 of 14 Eastern Conference clubs qualifying for post-season play — the rules have been modified exclusively this season due to the coronavirus pandemic — Montreal incredibly remains above the playoff line, in ninth place, clinging to a berth by the slightest of margins.

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Despite Sunday night’s 1-0 loss to Orlando City , the Impact, with 23 points, remains ahead of Chicago, Atlanta United, Inter Miami and D.C. United, all five clubs separated by two points. The Fire holds one game in hand, to be made up Wednesday night, on the road against Minnesota United FC.

Both Inter Miami and D.C. United lost Sunday, meaning Montreal would have clinched a playoff berth had it won. Instead, it all comes down to what the MLS has dubbed Decision Day, next Sunday, when the Impact travels to Audi Field in Washington, D.C.

Incredibly, Montreal remains in control of its own destiny, but must find a way to win a match while actually scoring a goal or two. The team has failed to find the back of the next in two successive games and has produced only one during a three-game losing skid.

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“It’s very frustrating. Somehow, goals kind of happen against us that seem easy for the other teams. It kind of falls their way and the ball ends up in the back of the net. For us, the ball hasn’t been as kind, if you want to say that. It’s very frustrating,” Amar Sejdic said during an abbreviated post-game video conference call before being summoned into a team meeting.

These meetings normally are held immediately following the match, and before manager Thierry Henry holds his own video conference call. This time, it might have been as simple as that. Or not. Goalkeeper Clément Diop was scheduled to follow Sejdic when the meeting finished. However, following a 50-minute delay, a team official stated Diop wouldn’t be made available — perhaps adding some intrigue to the mystery surrounding this team. Or perhaps Diop simply couldn’t be bothered?

Where the Impact’s concerned, sometimes things aren’t always clear.

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The Impact directed an incredible 16 shots at the Orlando City net in its desperate pursuit of goals, including five on target. Bojan alone could have scored two or three. Henry tried pulling every string available, seeking offence, including the second-half insertions of Anthony Jackson-Hamel, who returned following a lengthy absence due to injury, and Mason Toye . But nothing worked.

“I feel like we were (on) their throats for a large part of the second half,” Sejdic said. “Bojan had some great chances. The ‘keeper made a great save. There was a loose ball around the box. No one could put a foot on it. Overall, it’s very frustrating.

“At the end of the day we have to accept it. We have to move forward. Not scoring is frustrating because we were on the front foot the majority of the second half. We kind of made the situation for next week a little more difficult by not putting this game away. How do we take this game mentally and push it to the side? We need desire and a lot of passion if we want to succeed as a team.”

Henry, for his part, tried to take a philosophical approach. But the former Arsenal striker must lament the fact more of his players don’t possess his gifted finishing touch around the net. Or that Sporting Director Olivier Renard didn’t find a natural scorer to replace the departed Ignacio Piatti . The club also clearly misses the playmaking abilities of Saphir Taïder , who recently was transferred to Saudi Club Al Ain FC.

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With a week before its final game, the Impact was scheduled to return to Montreal for several days. The players must quarantine and won’t be allowed to train. That, too, has had mixed results this season on the few occasions the club has returned to Canada from its Harrison, N.J. training base.

“I’ve been saying that, emotionally, it’s been a roller coaster for all of us,” Henry said. “It’s been really difficult. Again, hopefully (returning to Montreal) can help. Sometimes it’s kind of weird but, emotionally, those guys need to go home. That’s the option we took. That’s how it is.”

Perhaps, but here’s another undeniable fact. If the Impact’s one of the four teams that don’t make the playoffs, that will be a black mark on this organization.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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