Montreal Impact captain Jukka Raitala has a simple message for his teammates as a difficult year comes to a close: we need one more win.
The Impact (7-13-2) play their final game of the Major League Soccer regular season on Sunday, and a victory over D.C. United (5-11-6) would secure Montreal's spot in the playoffs.
“It’s been a long season, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of talking about everything — bubbles, environments — but at the end of the day, we all love this sport," Raitala said this week.
"We’re all privileged to play soccer as professionals and you have to be ready to put everything on that game. We know the prize, what it is if we win, so it’s very simple.”
Positive results have been hard to come by for Montreal recently. The squad has lost five of its last six outings but remains two spots above the playoff bar heading into Sunday's game.
The Impact have had opportunities to cement their berth in the post-season recently but haven't been able to capitalize, Raitala said.
“Sometimes it’s bad luck, sometimes it’s lack of whatever it is," he said. "But I think we have to focus on ourselves, be positive and believe in ourselves."
The Impact have already faced United once this season in a game with big implications. When the two sides met at the MLS is Back tournament, only the winner advanced to the round of 16. Montreal posted a 1-0 victory, ousting D.C. from the bubble.
But United has a different momentum now, said Impact coach Thierry Henry.
D.C. went on a four-game unbeaten streak last month, only to see the stretch broken by a 4-3 loss to the New England Revolution last week.
“One thing that’s pretty sure you can expect from D.C. is they’re going to fight," Henry said. "When you play against them, always they will fight and give you a difficult time on the field. So we need to adapt to that and make sure we can have a good result over there. But it won’t be easy.”
The Impact players and staff were scheduled to head back to Montreal for a brief rest with loved ones this week, but opted instead to stay at their temporary home in Harrison, N.J., after suffering their third straight loss to Orlando City SC last week.
Getting a full week of training in ahead of such a big game is key, said Montreal's Victor Warnyama.
“It’s been really good to be together, to be able to work all this week," he said.
In order to top United, the Impact will need to rediscover their scoring touch.
Montreal has been shut out in back-to-back games. Across the first 20 games of the season, there were just two in which the Impact failed to register a single goal.
"We haven’t been lucky enough to score but I feel like we have been creating a lot of chances and it’s just a matter of time that we have to start finishing them," said Warnyama, who has a goal and two assists this year.
Despite a rough run of play, the players know they still control their playoff fate, he added.
"So hopefully we can stick together and perform well as a team and get the win."
MONTREAL IMPACT (7-13-2) AT D.C. UNITED (5-11-6)
Sunday, Audi Field
MAX SCORING: Montreal's Maxi Urrti has four goals in seven career games against United.
ARRIOLA RETURNS: D.C. winger Paul Arriola is expected to be back in the lineup on Sunday. The 25-year-old American spent nine months on the sidelines after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in pre-season action.
FAMILIAR FACE: United midfielder Felipe Martins spent three seasons with the Impact. He saw action in 93 matches for Montreal, scoring 12 goals and registering 24 assists.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2020.
The Canadian Press