VANCOUVER — A Canadian clash in Vancouver this weekend will have big implications for MLS teams on both sides of the field.
The Vancouver Whitecaps (3-6-0) weathered a rough run of play after returning from the COVID-19 pandemic suspension, but bounced back with a 3-2 win over Toronto FC last weekend. Now, the club is looking build some momentum with another home victory over the Montreal Impact (4-4-1) on Sunday.
Despite suffering three straight losses last month, the 'Caps are just three points below the playoff bar. A win this weekend would have the squad firmly back in contention, said Vancouver coach Marc Dos Santos.
"You forget that while you lost, many other teams lost and many other teams drew," he said. "The game on Sunday, to start, is a really important game to get us across that line."
Meanwhile, the Impact are fighting to stay in the Canadian Championship race.
After dropping a 2-1 decision to visiting Toronto FC on Wednesday, Montreal needs to beat Vancouver twice in the next week — and by a substantial margin — to win the round-robin portion of the tournament on a goals tiebreaker.
The top team will face the winner of the Canadian Premier League's Island Games.
TFC's win officially eliminated Vancouver from the competition, but Dos Santos said the Whitecaps haven't been talking about spoiling the Impact's chances in the tournament.
"We're just thinking about the points for the MLS standings," he said. "That's our focus. Our focus is to get our second win in a row. Our focus is to build on what we did against Toronto and to be even better."
The Impact beat visiting Vancouver 2-0 in their only other meeting this year on Aug. 25.
The 'Caps have come a long way since that trip, said midfielder Andy Rose.
Tactical changes to the offensive structure showed positive results in last weekend's game, including the addition of Michael Baldisimo, a young, dynamic midfielder who had a goal and an assist in the victory. Striker Lucas Cavallini also tallied his first MLS goal against TFC.
"Obviously it wasn't a perfect game by any means and there's still a lot of work for us to do. But as a collective, I think we have a better idea of those moments of where we did look very good and how to get in those positions again," Rose said.
Montreal presents a "different set of problems," in part because they're so good in transition, Rose added.
Impact goalkeeper Clement Diop sees similarities between his team and the Whitecaps this season.
"They are up and down. A bit like us, we're up and down," he said. "But this is still a good team. They showed against Toronto that they can score a lot of goals, that they can be a strong team at home. So it's up to us to deliver a battle, to get three points over there."
Beating the No. 2 team in MLS last week is sure to be a boon for Vancouver, said Montreal coach Thierry Henry.
"They're going to be buzzing," he said.
"They're going to be fresh, well trained, tactically sound. And obviously we're going to go there and try to perform. We know they're physical, they can keep the ball, they're good on set pieces. So we're going to have to deal with that."
The three Canadian MLS teams have been playing each other in this phase of the schedule to avoid travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MLS announced Friday that Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver will play home and road games in the U.S. in the next phase, starting later this month.
MONTREAL IMPACT (4-4-1) AT VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (3-6-0)
Sunday, BC Place
BIG STOPS: Montreal's Clement Diop has 33 saves this season, good for fourth in MLS.
CHIPPING IN: Six different players have scored for the Impact this season. Saphir Taider, Maximiliano Urruti and Romell Quioto have three apiece, while Lassi Lappalainen, Rudy Camacho and Victor Wanyama have also found the back of the net.
THE HISTORY BOOKS: Montreal has won the last two games between the Canadian rivals. Vancouver's last victory against the Impact came on March 4, 2018.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2020.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press