The Impact were shutout twice by Sporting KC earlier this year — 4-0 on the road on Apr. 19, and 3-0 at home on May 10. The two teams meet for the third and final time this season at Saputo Stadium on Saturday.
"Those were tough to digest," said striker Marco Di Vaio, who did not play in the 3-0 loss due to a hamstring injury. "We know that, unless we double our efforts, we'll lose again. We have to improve, and we have the capacity to do so. We need a full team effort to beat this team."
At Sporting Park in April, the Impact (3-8-5) gave up three second-half goals, including two to KC striker Dom Dwyer, for their biggest defeat of the season.
In May, Montreal was reduced to 10 men after just 17 minutes when midfielder Collen Warner, who has since been traded to Toronto FC, was shown a red card for handling the ball with his arm in the penalty box. Dwyer converted the ensuing spot kick, and added another goal in the second half.
After that game, Impact President Joey Saputo took to Twitter to promise fans that changes were forthcoming.
True to his word, Saputo shuffled the roster. In the last two months, the Impact traded Warner for midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran, acquired Mamadou Danso from the Portland Timbers, signed Spanish midfielder Gorka Larrea, sent Jeb Brovsky to expansion side New York City FC, released the injured Nelson Rivas, and added Polish left back Krzysztof Krol.
Most recently, after confirming Hernan Bernardello was headed to Cruz Azul in Mexico, Montreal signed Argentine attacking midfielder Ignacio Piatti as a designated player.
"We made some good moves and brought in some good quality players," said manager Frank Klopas. "It's taken some time for them to jell, but we're a different team. We have to continue to show that on the field."
While Danso, Krol and Piatti have yet to see action for the Impact, the positive results have started trickling in. Since that 3-0 home loss to Kansas City in May, Klopas' men are 4-3-3 in all competitions, and went undefeated in their final three Amway Canadian Championship games en route to the Voyageurs Cup.
"The team is much better now," said Di Vaio, who has yet to score against Sporting KC in six career matches. "We're working as a team, we're more confident. We hadn't been working together. Now, we're more team-oriented."
"We changed our personnel, and we changed our attitude," added captain Patrice Bernier. "It's up to us to prove that our two first games against them, we were a different team, and we weren't at our best. We're at home, and we have to remember the last time we played against them."
Since returning from the two-week World Cup break, the Impact have strung together three solid performances. The team registered a scoreless draw against the Whitecaps in Vancouver before beating the Houston Dynamo 3-0 at home.
Last week, despite a solid defensive showing, Montreal conceded four minutes into stoppage time for the 1-0 loss against Chivas USA to remain winless on the road this season.
Prior to the goal, the Impact had gone 315 successive minutes without conceding, the third longest shutout streak in Major league Soccer this year.
The stingy defending, however, hasn't been enough to heave the Impact off the bottom of the MLS standings, where they have been for most of the year. With just 14 points from 16 games, Montreal has the league's worst record.
"Paradoxically, considering the start of the season we've had, we're not that far from a playoff spot," said defender Hassoun Camara, whose team is just six points off fifth place in the Eastern Conference. "It may not have been how we wanted to start the season, but now, even in losses like last week's against Chivas, we're really bringing it on the pitch. We have to overcome adversity."
To keep second-place Kansas City (7-5-5) at bay, the Impact will have to contain Dwyer, something they couldn't do in the first two encounters this season. The 23-year-old leads the team with 12 goals and a league-high 63 shots.
"He's going to work hard, he's going to make good runs in the box, he's going to fight for everything, and he's going to close down," said Klopas. "Box defending has to be good, obviously. He's a guy that you have to be aware of for 90 minutes, because the one moment you lose focus and concentration, he can hurt you.
"He has a very god mentality right now and he's playing with a lot of confidence."
Like the Impact, Kansas City has only conceded once in its last three MLS games. But clean sheets may be more difficult to come by for Sporting in the near future. The team will be without goalkeeper Eric Kronberg for eight weeks after he fractured a bone in his left hand during training on Wednesday.
Kronberg, who's played all 17 games for Sporting KC this season, leads the league with seven clean sheets. Backup 'keeper Andy Gruenebaum will likely get the start against Montreal on Saturday.
Notes: On Tuesday, Klopas announced the Impact were still interested in acquiring Canadian international Olivier Occean from Kaiserslautern in Germany. … Sporting have yet to lose when they score first (7-0-4). … Karl Ouimette will be suspended if he receives a yellow card on Saturday. … Centre back Matt Besler will likely make his first appearance for SKC since returning from the FIFA World Cup. … Kansas City has only lost once in its last six MLS matches.