Crew-Impact Preview

The Associated Press

The Montreal Impact are coming off their first loss of the season, but they're happy to be returning home. Even if that means playing their outdoor home opener in winter-like conditions.

The Eastern Conference-leading Impact will be without suspended coach Marco Schällibaum on Saturday when they open the season series against the Columbus Crew at Stade Saputo.

Not only did Montreal (4-1-0) become the last MLS team to suffer a loss or tie with a 2-0 defeat at Sporting Kansas City on March 30, the club lost Schällibaum late in the contest when he squirted a water bottle at Sporting KC's bench as well as an official. The Swiss coach will not be on the touchline as the Impact open play at Stade Saputo. Playing in the climate-controlled Olympic Stadium, Montreal opened its home slate with wins over Toronto and New York last month.

The conditions will be much different - the forecast calls for showers and 45 degrees - for the Crew's first of two visits this season.

"Those are circumstances we can't control," Schällibaum, who will be replaced by assistant Mauro Biello on Saturday, told the Impact's official website. "... What's important is that we're getting back to our stadium, our home. We just have to accept the circumstances and adapt."

While the Impact will try to net the first goal for the fifth time in six games, the Crew are hopeful for a better start. They're tied for fourth in MLS with eight goals, but just one - Josh Williams' 15th-minute score in a 2-1 win at D.C. United on March 23 - has come before halftime.

"We have to be sharper in the beginning, coming out of the locker room," forward Ben Speas told the Crew's official website. "Especially after last game (last Saturday's 1-all draw against Philadelphia), we can't start like that (trailing until Dominic Oduro's goal in the 72nd minute). I'm not sure what it was. We were playing well in practice and we felt good, but I don't know what it was. Whatever it was, we have to be better."

The Impact, though, are well aware of the depth on coach Robert Warzycha's club, which holds the fourth spot in the East with eight points. Oduro and Williams each have two goals, while Jairo Arrieta, Glauber, Federico Higuain and Speas each have one.

Midfielder Eddie Gaven leads the Crew (2-1-2) with two assists.

"They have a lot of dangerous players like Higuain and Gaven," Impact midfielder Justin Mapp told the team's official website. "We played them in the preseason (a Montreal victory on Feb. 23 when Mapp netted the game's only goal) and it was a very tough game. It's always a dogfight, so it definitely won't be easy."

Montreal lost twice in Columbus during its inaugural MLS season in 2012, but it won 2-1 in the Crew's only previous visit on July 8.

Patrice Bernier, who scored on a penalty kick past Andy Gruenebaum in that match, has three assists and is one of four Impact players with a goal. Marco Di Vaio leads the club with two, and the Italian striker set up the Impact's first score in Columbus' first game in Montreal.

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