With the Montreal Impact in the homestretch of a season to forget, at least one player has already written off the current Major League Soccer campaign and is already turning his attention to next year.
With the team racking up disappointing results for most of the season, defender Matteo Ferrari believes the last-place Impact have dug themselves too big a hole.
Montreal is 13 points out of a playoff spot with nine MLS games remaining, and their hopes for November soccer are dwindling. On Saturday, the team is in Houston taking on a ninth-place Dynamo team in the thick of a heated playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
"This is the moment to prepare the team for next year," said Ferrari, whose contract with the Impact expires next spring. "This year is going to be almost impossible to make the playoffs. No one expected a poor year like this. There are too many points separating us from fifth place. Every remaining game will help us for next year, that's for sure."
Though Ferrari agrees the team has greatly improved since the start of the season, namely with the key additions of midfielders Ignacio Piatti and Dilly Duka, the Italian defender wants the Impact to focus much of their energy on the CONCACAF Champions League, where Montreal is sitting pretty atop their group with two wins from their first two matches.
"I don't think you need to change all the players here," added Ferrari, who criticized the team back in January for being too inactive during the off-season. "You can add some players, some quality players, and I'm sure that, next year, it will be different."
After losing seven straight MLS games, the Impact (5-15-5) have strung together a few respectable results. Frank Klopas's men have won two of their last three in the league, and four of their last six in all competitions.
Montreal is coming off a 2-0 victory at home against the Columbus Crew in which goalkeeper Evan Bush recorded his second shutout in just his sixth MLS start. Newly-signed designated player Piatti got both goals, his first two in MLS. The Impact are 3-1-0 since the Argentine, nicknamed Nacho, made his first appearance for the club three weeks ago.
"The confidence is starting to grow, especially with our forwards finding a good dynamic between them," said Biello. "We're in a situation where we're in last place and we want to continue to do better, we want to grow. There are nine games left, and it's about getting out of last place. It's not about thinking of the playoffs.
"For the next nine games, we'll get a lot of answers building up to next year. Hopefully we can continue on this streak, and that will help us making decisions in the off-season."
On Saturday, Montreal will look to put a dent in Houston's playoff hopes with a victory at the BBVA Compass Stadium, where the Impact are 0-3-1 since joining MLS. Despite being in ninth in the Eastern Conference, a playoff berth is definitely within reach for the Dynamo, as only five points separate them from fourth-place Toronto FC.
Houston's turf has been something of a stronghold of late, as the Dynamo are unbeaten in their last four at home (2-0-2). Montreal, meanwhile, is still looking for its first away victory of the season.
"You have to go down there, you have to battle with them, you have to match their intensity," said Bush, who's still competing with 'keeper Troy Perkins for the starting role in net. "Once you do that, then you can worry about the soccer aspect. First and foremost, you have to match their physicality and their intensity.
"Houston, at this time of the year, this is when they really start getting going. We're both in a good spot with how we're playing."
The Dynamo (8-13-4) are coming off a 3-1 road victory against Sporting Kansas City where they scored twice from dead-ball situations. Houston is very dangerous on set pieces, having found the back of the net an MLS-high five times from indirect free kicks this year.
The Orange Crush were dealt a blow in that game when goalie Tally Hall came off injured in the 80th minute. Hall is expected to miss the remainder of Houston's season with a torn ACL in his right knee. Backup 'keeper Tyler Deric will get the start against the visiting Impact.
Montreal, meanwhile, will have to contend without four of its players, including captain Patrice Bernier and midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran, who are with the Canadian national team in Toronto ahead of Tuesday's international friendly against Jamaica. Defender Hassoun Camara will also miss the game after a tackle against Columbus's Federico Higuain was deemed too reckless by the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
"There's a good rivalry," said Biello of Saturday's match in Houston. "Last year, we played them in the playoffs. It's always intense. We're looking to finally get a good result over there. We've had a few difficult matches over there. We're on a good run of late."
Notes: This is the third and final meeting between the Impact and Dynamo this season. Each team won its home game going into Saturday's matchup. . . Striker Marco Di Vaio has scored four goals in six career games versus Houston, while Jack McInerney has four in five. . .On Thursday, Impact president Joey Saputo announced the organization would be building a new training facility, and would be adding a second professional soccer team in the city, FC Montreal, which will compete in the USL Pro. . . The Impact also announced that Nick De Santis, who was removed last month as the Impact's sporting director, has a new role as director of international business development.