By Randy Phillips
MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact put the brakes on a potentially disastrous start to the United Soccer Leagues First Division season with a 4-0 win over the Austin Aztex on Sunday.
Wednesday, the Impact will be looking for another important victory to keep alive its hopes of representing Canada in CONCACAF Champions League for the second straight year.
The Impact hosts USL rival the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first of two meetings between the teams in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. It’s a game that could ultimately decide Montreal’s fate for Champions League, and it’s a situation head coach Marc Dos Santos doesn’t hesitate to describe as “desperate.”
“Absolutely it is. We need three points (for a win) and nothing else,” Dos Santos said after putting his players through a spirited practice on Tuesday.
The Impact fell 1-0 to Toronto FC of Major League Soccer in its opening game of the three-team round robin a week ago in Toronto. TFC beat Vancouver 1-0 in Toronto on May 6 in the first game of the series.
“Our approach going into (Wednesday’s) game is that Toronto has six points and we have zero,” Dos Santos said. “We cannot think too much about the future. We have to take our next two games step by step. If we beat them, then we go to Vancouver (next Wednesday) to try to take three more points and try to force a final against Toronto here.”
TFC will play its return leg against the Whitecaps in Vancouver on June 2, and comes to Montreal on June 18 for a possible series-deciding match against the Impact. The Canadian champion will move on to Champions League play. Last season, the Impact made soccer history by reaching the quarter-finals of the inaugural tournament.
The Impact defeated Vancouver twice by 2-0 scores in last year’s qualifying, but also lost to the Whitecaps in the USL semifinals, falling 2-1 on aggregate in the two-game series. Vancouver went on to win the league title for the second time in three years.
Eduardo Sebrango helped sink the Impact in last year’s playoffs, scoring the second goal in a 2-0 win for Vancouver in Game 2. But after signing with the Impact as a free agent during the off-season, the Cuban-born striker hopes to turn the tables on Vancouver.
“I’m excited for the game. To see my old friends. But I’m extra prepared to play them,” said Sebrango, who scored 12 goals in 29 games last season with Vancouver.
“There might be a bit of advantage for me because I know what their tendencies are,” added Sebrango, who spent the last three seasons with Vancouver. “But it’s a new game and every game is different. I have in the back of my mind what to expect, but who knows that will turn out (tonight).”
Unlike the Impact (1-3-2), which won for the first time in six league games on Sunday, Vancouver has started strong in USL play and is in third place with a 3-2-2 record and 11 points. But the USL and the Canadian championship are two different things, and the Whitecaps need a win Wednesday as much as the Impact.
“They’re not going to come in here and, like most teams, play for just a result (a draw),” Impact defender Nevio Pizzolitto said. “We expect them to try to salvage something out this tournament and we expect to do the same. There are going to be battles all over the field.
“There’s more pressure because this is a four-game tournament and we need to win the last three games,” Pizzolitto added. “There’s more pressure because we need three points. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows how significant this is to us.”
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