Crew-Impact Preview

The Associated Press

After a relatively quiet first three MLS seasons, Justin Meram has been one of the biggest reasons why the Columbus Crew have turned things around offensively.

As Meram looks to score in a career-best fourth straight match, the visiting Crew try to continue climbing the Eastern Conference ladder by dealing the Montreal Impact their ninth loss in 10 contests Saturday night.

The Crew's red-hot forward has keyed a resurgent attack with five goals and four assists in 23 contests this season after totaling five goals and four assists in 58 games from 2011-13.

Meram finished with a goal and an assist in Saturday's 3-0 home win over Houston, helping Columbus (8-8-9) move into a third-place tie with Toronto in the East. The 25-year-old has three goals and two assists in his last three matches.

"I'm getting a little bit fitter, which kind of helps my mind out," he told the team's official website. "I'm being more decisive and I have a little more freedom."

With Meram coming into his own, the Crew have scored 14 times during a 4-1-1 stretch and can match a season high with their third straight win since putting up 14 goals while going 1-7-8 between April and mid-July.

Federico Higuain, who has a team-high nine goals, has contributed three scores, while Bernando Anor and Ethan Finlay have two apiece over that span.

Anor provided both tallies at home July 19 when the Crew rallied from an early hole for a 2-1 win over the Impact. Columbus has played well with three straight wins and a 5-1-1 record in the series since Montreal joined the league in 2012.

The Impact (4-15-5) have a league-low 17 points after getting outscored 19-9 during a 1-8-0 stretch. However, they have won three of five across all competitions.

Andres Romero and former Columbus winger Dilly Duka scored in Saturday's 4-2 loss at New York that snapped a modest two-game winning streak for Montreal which included a 3-2 victory at FAS in Champions League play.

Romero provided goals in both contests, giving him seven on the season. Marco Di Vaio has a club-best eight after scoring four times in his last four starts and Jack McInerney has six across all competitions.

Di Vaio had the Impact's lone tally in the July road loss to Columbus, giving him four goals in the last five meetings.

"We are at home," assistant coach Mauro Biello said. "We have to put pressure on them and make sure we play our game."

Montreal has made some moves since the first matchup, trading for Duka and picking up midfielder Ignacio Piatti on a designated player contract. Piatti has given the Impact another playmaker to team with McInerney and Di Vaio.

That doesn't bode well for Columbus, which has lost a big piece of its defense with Costa Rica's Giancarlo Gonzalez moving on to Palermo of Italy's Serie A.

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