SPORTS

Impact returns minus Di Vaio, Romero to Houston, site of 2013 playoff disaster

03/14/2014 11:40 EDT | Updated 05/14/2014 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - The fallout will be felt when the Montreal Impact returns to the scene of last season's playoff disaster.

A skirmish at the end of Montreal's 3-0 loss to the Dynamo in Houston in its first Major League Soccer playoff game Oct. 31 cost the Impact the services of star striker Marco Di Vaio and midfielder Andres Romero for the first three matches of the 2014 campaign due to suspensions.

Neither will be available when the Impact (0-1-0) faces the Dynamo (1-0-0) on Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium, which was sold out for Houston's season-opening 4-0 win over New England last week.

"A lot of the same players (as now) played that game," Impact assistant coach Mauro Biello said this week. "It's a new season and you turn the page on that, but you never forget certain games."

The Impact entered the playoffs on a 1-6-1 skid last season and went to pieces in the first round. Montreal ended the match with nine men after defender Nelson Rivas was sent off for a second caution and Romero was ejected for kicking an opponent late in the proceedings.

The 20-goal scorer Di Vaio was later suspended for joining the ensuing melee.

With Rivas out (hamstring), none of those players will be on the pitch for the rematch, but the Impact has bigger questions to ponder than seeking redemption.

In Montreal's season-opening 3-2 loss in Dallas, the attack proved more dangerous than expected as Sanna Nyassi finished a spectacular setup from Justin Mapp and Di Vaio's replacement, Andrew Wenger, matched his goals total from all of last season with a well-timed header.

However, Nyassi injured a knee in the second half. He returned to Montreal to be examined by team doctors and won't be available.

And the makeshift back line, which had fullback Hassoun Camara in Rivas' spot in the middle and rookie Eric Miller in his first MLS start at right back, was overwhelmed at times by the speedy Dallas forwards.

Biello would not say what changes are planned for the back end, but there is a possibility that newcomer Heath Pearce will be available to play at least half the game. Pearce is a three-time MLS all-star who had hip surgery in July and was released by the New York Red Bulls. He joined the Impact during training camp and signed a contract two days before the opener.

Captain and midfielder Patrice Bernier should also be OK to play. Both played 90 minutes in a reserve league game Sunday.

"We haven't finalized a decision," said Biello. "Both have got 45 (minutes) in them, definitely. Now we have to decide on the best option."

Pearce is a left back whose presence could cause a chain reaction along the line, with perhaps Impact Academy product Wandrille Lefevre seeing some action in central defence beside veteran Matteo Ferrari.

Biello said the Dallas goals came from "bad mistakes" and the defence "needs to be sharp for 90 minutes. Whoever we select for the back line needs to be ready for the challenge."

Bernier plays in the centre of the midfield beside designated player Hernan Bernardello, who looked sharper against Dallas than he did when he joined the Impact last summer. Collen Warner was in that spot last week.

The Impact's performance moved it up from last in the 19-team league to 18th in MLS power rankings, ahead of D.C. United.

The fifth-ranked Dynamo's attack got off to a spectacular start against New England. Veteran Will Bruin scored twice in the first 15 minutes and assisted on a goal by Boniak Garcia. Substitute Omar Cummings also scored.

"We knocked them out of the playoffs so I'm sure they're coming here looking for a result," Dynamo defender Corey Ashe said on his team's website. "I think both teams are focusing on winning — whatever happened is in the past."

Houston winger Tony Cascio twisted a knee in the second half and is not certain to play.

The Impact began last season with two road wins and rode that to an excellent first half before fading late in the 2013 campaign.

Now Montreal is looking to grab at least a point before returning for its home opener March 22 against the Seattle Sounders at Olympic Stadium.

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