SPORTS

Impact look to resume hunt for a playoff spot after two-week MLS break

09/13/2012 06:11 EDT | Updated 11/13/2012 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - A two-week break in the schedule wasn't what the Montreal Impact wanted in the midst of a playoff race, but it at least allowed them to get healthy going into the final stretch of the Major League Soccer season.

Coach Jesse Marsch had all his players on the field for the first time in weeks in training at Saputo Stadium on Thursday, including midfielder Justin Mapp, who has not played in more than a month due to a hamstring injury.

Marsch said Mapp will be available for a game Saturday night in Chicago.

''The trainers have an easy job now,'' Marsch said. ''There's not anyone who is not healthy.

''A couple of guys aren't at 100 per cent, but I think everyone will be available for the weekend. Justin Mapp will be available. I don't think he's ready to give 90 minutes, but we'll figure out a way to use him in some capacity.''

The first team in practice had Nelson Rivas and Alessandro Nesta in central defence with Matteo Ferrari and Hassoun Camara as the fullbacks. Patrice Bernier and Collin Warner were behind Davy Arnaud, Felipe Martins and Sanna Nyassi in the midfield, with Marco Di Vaio up front.

Bernier was back after helping Canada split back-to-back games against Panama in World Cup qualifying. Camara is set to return from a two-game suspension.

The 12-14-3 Impact last played on Sept. 1 in Columbus, a 2-1 setback on a goal in stoppage time. That ended a five-game winning streak that had buoyed their hopes of reaching the playoffs in their first MLS season.

They have since dropped to seventh place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Columbus for the fifth and final playoff spot. They have five games left in the regular season to mount a charge.

Chicago (14-8-5) is in second place after a 2-1 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday night.

''We've talked a lot about what the ends of games look like,'' said Marsch, whose team has won only twice on the road this season. ''Even (Wednesday), it looked like Toronto was done and they were able to mount an effort and make it interesting.

''That's the way games look at the end of the year. The last 15 minutes determine a game. We've not done well in that aspect and we have to make sure we raise ourselves at the end of games and not drop.''

The Impact have worked on all aspects of the game, including fitness, during their time off. They hoped they haven't lost their edge that had them playing their best soccer of the season in August.

''After two weeks off, the first 15 minutes is always tough and we have to be ready to come out sharp and with lots of energy,'' said goalkeeper Troy Perkins. ''Not to get impatient with things on the pitch and make sure we have control of the game.

''Looking back on the way we won, we imposed our game on teams. Whether at home or on the road, we didn't let teams get a rhythm.''

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