MONTREAL - Things are about to get busy for the Montreal Impact.
After playing only one Major League Soccer match since March 30, the Impact begin a string of five games in 15 days when they play host to the Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon.
The second-year MLS club (4-1-1) won it's first four games in March, but now is looking to end a winless run that has reached three games if Wednesday's 2-0 defeat in Toronto in Amway Canadian Championship play is included.
Mostly, the Impact are looking for the kind of dominant 90-minute performance they have yet to produce despite a winning record that has them third in the Eastern Conference behind Kansas City (4-2-2) and Houston (4-2-1), who have each played more games.
They'd also like to crank up the attack after scoring only seven times in their first six league games.
"You'd like to see more offence, but first and foremost is energy and will," said midfielder Patrice Bernier. "When we're first on the ball we tend to control games and create more opportunities.
"When we're working in synch together we're able to create more chances. That's the get-go for Saturday — to go out there being first on the ball and being the better team."
They will be up against a seventh-place Chicago (2-4-1) that has allowed 12 goals in seven matches, tied with the New York Red Bulls for worst in the 19-team league.
But most of those came early in the season in losses of 4-0 to Los Angeles and 4-1 to Chivas USA. The Fire have settled since then and have won twice in their last three outings, including a 1-0 win at home last week against Columbus.
Still, goalkeeper Sean Johnson told mlssoccer.com the Fire's defence will need to be alert against a Montreal attack led by Italian veteran Marco Di Vaio, who has scored the team's last three goals.
"He's one of the smartest players in the league," said Johnson. "We have to focus on him but not take too much attention off the other players.
"Bernier is a fantastic player too."
The Impact ended up with long stretches of time off when a game at Los Angeles was postponed until October to allow the Galaxy to focus on a CONCACAF Champions League game.
Now the schedule gets tight. After Chicago, they have the return leg of their Amway series with Toronto on Wednesday, then face San Jose, New York and Salt Lake in quick succession.
The bench will be tested, as central defender Matteo Ferrari remains sidelined with a calf injury, which has pressed local product Karl Ouimette into duty.
Coach Marco Schallibaum keeps his starting 11 secret, but it is likely Ouimette will be once again be paired with veteran Alessandro Nesta in the central defence with Hassoun Camara and Jeb Brovsky as the fullbacks.
The midfield will likely have Bernier behind Felipe Martins and Davy Arnaud, with two more chosen between Justin Mapp, Andrea Pisanu and Andres Romero.
Di Vaio is up front, with a chance that his former Bologna teammate and fellow striker Daniele Paponi may also play. Paponi, who joined last week on loan, saw his first action in Toronto on Wednesday.
"It's a possibility because we need box time and players that go in front and make goals," Schallibaum said of Paponi.
For Chicago, it will be a much different visit to Montreal than a year ago, when they played to a 1-1 draw before 58,912 at Olympic Stadium in the Impact's first MLS home game. Dominic Oduro, who scored for the Fire that day, now plays for Columbus.
A crowd of more than 18,000 is expected at 20,000-seat Saputo Stadium,.
In the Impact's last MLS game at home on April 14, Oduro score the equalizer for Columbus in a 1-1 draw. They are 2-0-1 at home this season.
"For me, the mentality we have is important on Saturday because we need the three points to stay up in the standings," said Di Vaio. "It's been three games we didn't win, so we need that."
The Fire will be without defender Wells Thompson, who was fined and suspended for one game for a reckless tackle on the Crew's Agustin Viana last week.
Chicago got more heat this week as owner Andrew Hauptmann labelled their start disappointing and called for more player signings before the transfer window closes May 6.