MONTREAL - Playing opponents for a second time hasn't been pleasant for the Montreal Impact.
They hope to break that trend this week.
It starts on Wednesday night when they play host to Sporting Kansas City (9-5-2), a team they beat 2-0 on May 5 for their first and only road victory.
The Impact (5-10-3) are coming off 3-0 losses last week to Toronto FC and D.C. United — teams they earned a win and draw against respectively the first time they faced them this season.
That raised the question of whether the club took some opponents by surprise earlier in their expansion season and were put in their place on the second meeting, but midfielder Patrice Bernier wasn't buying that theory.
''So far, we've been very good against the higher ranked teams and not as great against the lower ranked teams,'' Bernier said Tuesday. ''I think it's a mental thing, not necessarily that teams have figured out how we play.
''We had a little low in terms of mental and physical fatigue. We have to adjust quick so it doesn't happen again.''
Bernier will return from a one-game suspension he picked up for a bad tackle against Toronto's Ryan Johnson last week. He missed the debacle in Washington, where an improvised lineup was dominated in sweltering heat at RFK Stadium.
Coach Jesse Marsch is expected to go back to a more regular starting 11 against Kansas City. Veteran Donovan Ricketts is back in goal after giving a start to Evan Bush, Zarek Valentin will move from the centre to right back and designated player Marco Di Vaio will line up at striker.
Third-place Kansas City is also coming off a pair of losses in which it didn't score — 4-0 at Philadelphia and 1-0 at home against Chicago.
The Impact were brought down to earth by their last two outings after winning big against top clubs Seattle and Houston in their first two games at revamped Saputo Stadium, after starting the season at Olympic Stadium.
They remain 4-2-2 at home for the season, and need to take advantage of home turf to keep any playoff hopes alive.
''We're in the period where we're having a little low, but we have to realize there are less games to be played than before, so the margin for error is very slim,'' Bernier said.
The chief concern is defence. Montreal has conceded a league-high 32 goals in 18 games, 13 of them off set-piece plays like free kicks and corners.
It doesn't help that their two first-string central defenders, Matteo Ferrari (right thigh) and Nelson Rivas (abdominal strain), are injured. Veteran Shavar Thomas and Hassoun Camara are filling in.
''It's the overall team mentality and how 11 guys commit to not giving away goals,'' said Marsch. ''It's a pitfall of every new team, but we're going to continue to push ourselves to deal with set pieces well, to deal with all moments well and to be hard to play against in every spot on the field.
''We don't have to feel sorry for ourselves about what's not going right. Now, it's just about digging in and having guys who are willing to throw it all on the field.''
They also hope to get Di Vaio going on attack.
The former star striker at Bolgna in Italy's Serie-A played 55 minutes in his debut against Toronto and came on for the second half against D.C., so far with no results. It appears an adjustment period is needed before he adapts to a new style of soccer and his teammates pick up on how he manoeuvres in the attacking zone.
''He's coming from another culture of football,'' said Bernier, who had to tweak his own game when he joined the Impact after nine years in Europe. ''You have to adjust to playing in the heat of summer when you're used to playing in the spring and fall.
''Those things come into play, but I think the main thing is that he hasn't had a pre-season. He only had 10 or 12 days with us. Each time he plays, the more he'll be able to show.''
Di Vaio is part of the club's growing collection of 30-something Italian veterans looking to close out their careers in MLS. He joined Ferrari and forward Bernardo Corradi, who was leading the club with four goals when his season ended three weeks ago with a knee injury. Rivas, a Colombian, also played in Serie-A.
Now the Impact are looking to add a former Italian national team stalwart in 36-year-old central defender Alessandro Nesta.
Marsch confirmed that the team has made Nesta an offer and is optimistic he will join the club soon.
''We'd be in a fortunate position to be able to come to terms with him,'' said Marsch. ''I'm not sure where it's all going to go.
''The good thing is that it's fair to say Alessandro wants to be here.''
Nesta played the last two 10 seasons at AC Milan. The veteran of three World Cups, including a victory in 2006, has 78 caps for Italy.
He attended the Impact's game last week against Toronto.
Notes — Marsch said Corradi has returned to Italy to work with the same doctors who treated his previous knee injuries. He is expected to be out for up to six months with a torn ACL.. . . Ferrari took warmup with his teammates, but spent practice on the sidelines working with the team's physiotherapist. Marsch said Ferrari, Rivas, and forward Andrew Wenger (hamstring) are about two weeks away from returning.