If there was an objective for the Montreal Impact in its first season in MLS, it was that of being competitive, or, at the very least, not embarrassing itself like its Canadian rivals down the 401 and on the Pacific did in their own expansion seasons.
As the Impact season wore on - with new inclusions and tactical adjustments which suited the Impact’s key players - what had initially been a mediocre side started to become a rather good one, and when the Impact beat the Seattle Sounders 4-1 in its home opener at Saputo Stadium in June, the objectives started to change: making the playoffs became the goal.
But with the poor results in the beginning of the season and with a few slip ups in June and July, the Impact would find itself with a huge mountain to climb in order to make it to the postseason. However, with five wins in a row at the end of July and in August, it seemed like Montreal could actually make it in the end.
In the last three weeks, the tide has changed one again, as two successive road losses against the Columbus Crew and the Chicago Fire have just about extinguished the Impact’s playoff hopes. And what was most frustrating for the team was the fact that the losses were very much reminiscent of the defeats suffered earlier in the season, where the Impact finds the opening goal and look the better side, but then let the opposing team eventually come back and obtain the three points in the latter stages of the game.
As head coach Jesse Marsch told reporters earlier this week, nothing was said in the locker room following the decisive loss to the Fire on Saturday, as everyone knew where things had gone wrong.
“After the game we didn’t speak,” said Marsch. “It was a type of game where we felt like there wasn’t anything to be said, that we all felt the disappointment as a group, so there wasn’t anything to be said.
“Today we talked and said it’s frustrating because we actually played very well in major stretches of that game and feel like we were the better team for the most part, but we gave it away and it felt a little similar to some of the things that were going on earlier in the year where we’re doing well, but giving games away.”
Patrice Bernier was of the same opinion.
“These two games were like déjà vu of the beginning of the season where we take the lead and play well and then take some silly goals,” said Bernier. “Sometimes we just gift goals to the other team.”
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Throughout most of the week, but especially on Tuesday when the team reconvened after the Chicago game, the team was in particularly poor spirits and quite argumentative with one another as well. Naturally, when the season’s objectives no longer seem in reach, players will tend to start pointing the finger at who they think is to blame.
Though it is highly unlikely that the Impact will make the playoffs, as Bernier pointed out, it is still mathematically possible. With only four games to go, the players need to put aside their differences and frustrations and concentrate on finishing as best they can.
“The last two games were a bit of a reminder of the beginning of the season, in the way we lost points, but there’s no time to really assess how to season went, there will be more time at the end of the season to assess,” said Bernier. “Now we just have to focus on the four games to go, we’re still in it mathematically and we know that at home we’re good and we have to make sure we make the teams pay.”
Despite the frustration of not making the playoffs, Montreal has still had an excellent first season in MLS, one that it should be proud of, and quarelling with one another would only help spoil the good that's been accomplished so far.
Nick Sabetti covers the Montreal Impact for Goal.com Canada.