HOUSTON - Less than a month ago, the Montreal Impact were sitting comfortably in playoff position looking like a team destined to make the post-season.
Following Friday night's 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo, Montreal is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs altogether.
Ricardo Clark scored in the sixth minute and the Dynamo defeated Montreal 1-0 to extend the Impact's winless streak to four games.
The loss stings even more for Montreal (13-10-7, 46 points), who fell to fourth in the Eastern Conference, as Houston (13-10-8, 47 points) jumped past the Impact into third place. The Dynamo are now unbeaten in their last four games.
With four games left, including one game in hand on almost every team in the Eastern Conference, the Impact have time to right the ship, but Montreal goalkeeper Troy Perkins says there has to be a sense of urgency.
"I certainly hope the guys know what this means now," Perkins said. "We are close to falling out of the pot now. We got to pick ourselves up and get back to it."
Clark gave Houston an early lead going back to his right in the middle of the field and sending a blast that both Clark and Perkins said grazed off of Matteo Ferrari and inside the near post from 25 yards out.
Davy Arnaud said the Impact knew the game would be tough, but the goal made it that much tougher.
Montreal head coach Marco Schallibaum said giving up a goal in the first six minutes changed the game plan.
"We were too shy (in the first half)," Schallibaum said. "We let Houston dominate in the first half and do what they wanted. The second half was OK. It looked like we might get one point here, but the luck was not on our side."
Montreal had two chances midway through the second half to tie the game, with the first chance in the 68th minute coming with controversy.
With Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall off his line, Arnaud sent a blast from 14 yards out in the middle that was blocked by Houston defender Bobby Boswell, who was moving his body to avoid being hit in the front. The ball appeared to hit him in the left elbow.
Schallibaum and Arnaud both said the play should have been a penalty as Boswell committed a handball, but referee Drew Fischer did not blow his whistle even as the Impact cried out for a penalty kick.
"For me, it's a penalty," Arnaud said. "I think when everyone reacts like that, it's pretty clear. For me it's a penalty. Things happen quickly. Maybe he didn't see it."
Montreal had another chance to tie it a couple minutes later, but Andrew Wenger sent a shot from the penalty area wide left.
"I thought we more than deserved to get the equalizers," said Impact midfielder Justin Mapp said. "I thought we were just as good as them on the night. (It's) very frustrating because we know how tight the races are. They were close to us, now (they are) ahead of us."
Perkins echoed Mapp's thoughts.
"I think we played well to at least get a point," Perkins said. "Little mistakes, little decisions come back and bite us in the end. We need to be able to get a point on the road this late in the season."
In less than four weeks, the Impact have gone from a 4-2 win at New England and sitting atop the East to dropping three of their last four.
The Impact play two of the last four games at home, and will be looking for a better outcome from their next match, Oct. 12 against New England.
"We know we go back home for a big game," Arnaud said. "As much as we don't want to put this behind us, we need to. We are still in a good position. We have a game in hand on a lot of teams, but now going back home, we know we need to get three points."
Mapp added: "Each game will have to be like a playoff game. Two games remaining at home, and at this point they are must-win. No other way around it. We have to protect our home field the next two games."