The Impact (5-1-2) are among four teams tied for top spot, but they have a game in hand over Houston, two games over Kansas City and three over the Red Bulls (5-4-2).
They will face New York on Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena.
"It's good when you play another team at the top," defender Matteo Ferrari said Tuesday. "If we win, maybe we're at the top alone, but at this point of the season, it's not very important for us.
"It's important to try to beat an opponent like New York because they're in our conference and they're fighting to win the championship. So for us, it's an exam and I think we're ready for that."
Fatigue and injuries are dogging the Impact, who are coming off a 2-2 draw at San Jose on Saturday in which they wasted a two-goal lead.
Ferrari returned from a calf injury in that game, but the club remains without defenders Nelson Rivas (knee) and Alessandro Nesta (adductors), midfielders Davy Arnaud (head) and Andrea Pisanu (right quad strain) and forward Daniele Paponi (hamstring).
Coach Marco Schallibaum has leaned heavily on Hassoun Camara and Jeb Brovsky on defence and has been experimenting with formations and personnel in the midfield and up front.
The Impact defeated New York 1-0 at Olympic Stadium on March 27 on an early goal from Marco Di Vaio, but the Red Bulls were missing French international Thierry Henry, who was injured, and Australian Tom Cahill, who had been called away for national team duty.
Both are expected in the lineup as New York tries to extend a three-game winning streak. Cahill has three goals in his last two appearances, including both goals in a 2-1 win over Toronto FC and the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Columbus on the weekend.
Ferrari, a former Italian international who played for Roma and Inter Milan among other clubs, is looking forward to facing both Red Bulls stars.
"It's not the same team because for sure New York has players that didn't play last game," he said. "And an away game is always different.
"But we're ready for that. We're first in the conference, like New York, so it's a perfect game. I know Henry from Europe. I played against him many times. I know he's still a big player. I played with Cahill in Everton (in 2005-06), so I know him very well."
Henry and Cahill share the team lead with three goals along with Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave, who was not used in Montreal but is expected to play in the rematch.
Amid the injuries, midfielder Justin Mapp has stepped up with perhaps his best soccer in two seasons in Montreal.
He had a goal and helped set up three more in a 6-0 win over TFC in return leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal series last week. Then he had both Impact goals in San Jose, including a remarkable 35-yard strike in the first half.
The Impact led the lead slip away, but still came away with a point. They are 2-1-1 in away matches this season.
Midfielder Patrice Bernier elected to look at it on the bright side.
"Of course, you're always disappointed because you had the lead, and this year, when we've had the lead we've usually been able to keep it," he said. "In the first half, maybe we should have been down.
"(Goalkeeper) Troy Perkins kept us in good shape. So at the end of the day, it's OK. Last year, maybe we would have lost that game and came out with zero. Every point counts."
Schallibaum closes the last practice before a game to the media, so the lineup is not known. He began the season with Di Vaio as the lone striker, but has used a 4-4-2 formation of late with two forwards.
In San Jose, Andrew Wenger paired with Di Vaio, although without the chemistry the Italian had with his former Bologna teammate Paponi.
Another question is whether Dennis Iapichino, who was caught out on both Earthquake goals, will play again at left back.
Schallibaum said Arnaud might make the trip but is more likely to return Saturday at home against Salt Lake. Nesta may also be ready for Saturday, but is more likely to play next Wednesday when Montreal plays host to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final.
He said Paponi is three or four weeks away.Suggest a correction