MONTREAL - With a Major League Soccer playoff berth out of reach, the Montreal Impact will now focus on moving from the bottom of the league standings.
The Impact, last in the Eastern Conference with 24 points from 29 games, will look for a season-high third straight win Saturday when it visits the Columbus Crew.
"We're still going to put out the lineup that we think can get the best result," said Montreal forward Jack McInerney. "Coming into this game, we don't want to be the last team in the league so getting a result against Columbus is big for us."
A win Saturday would certainly help Montreal's quest to move from last in the overall standings. The Impact (6-17-6) is tied for that dubious honour with the Western Conference's Chivas USA, which is in Seattle on Saturday.
Montreal will also look to play the role of spoiler. Columbus (10-9-10, 40 points) is fifth in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Philadelphia Union and three in front of Toronto FC, which has a game in hand.
"If we can make it difficult for some other teams, why not?" said Montreal manager Frank Klopas, whose team has five games remaining. "There's still a lot to play for."
"Hopefully we can go there and spoil the party," he said. "I'm sure they're looking at it as one of the biggest games of their season.
"They can either solidify a playoff spot or get in some trouble."
Montreal resumes MLS play after reaching the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday night. The Impact cemented its first quarter-final berth in six years, finishing atop Group 3 after the New York Red Bulls and C.D. FAS battled to a 0-0 tie in El Salvador.
Like many of his players, Klopas watched Wednesday's contest and was quite pleased with the result.
"I'm very happy for the club and players," he said. "It's been a difficult year.
"It's important, the way we're playing now, to finish on a positive note. This goes a long way to building a lot of momentum for the team. We're a different team at this point in the season."
Despite being eliminated from playoff contention, the Impact has turned its season around.
Montreal managed just five wins over its first 25 games in all competitions but has gone 6-4-1 since Aug. 5, which includes three home MLS victories. One was a 2-0 decision over Columbus on Aug. 30 as designated player Ignacio Piatti scored his first two goals for the club.
It was the Crew's lone loss in six games. Columbus is one of the league's hottest teams, having gone 6-2-3 since mid July.
"They're organized, they look to play out of the back and they're good in possession," said Klopas. "Last time we were there we didn't do well in the midfield battle.
"We have to be good with the ball."
Columbus earned a 2-1 home win over Montreal on July 19. Bernardo Anor had both goals as the Crew effectively controlled play in the midfield.
Montreal is a dismal 0-11-3 on the road in MLS action this season. To break into the win column, the Impact backline must contain Argentine forward Federico Higuain, the Crew's leader in goals (10), assists (six), shots (63) and shots on goal (24).
"Columbus is a dangerous team with Higuain," said Klopas. "When he's able to dictate the rhythm and tempo of the game and get balls in the final third, he's a guy that you always have to be aware of."
Midfielder Ignacio Piatti (knee) isn't expected to play for Montreal so Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare, 19, will likely make his fourth consecutive start. And with Marco Di Vaio likely to retire next month, the expectation is Klopas will give McInerney more playing time in the remaining games.
Midfielder Justin Mapp, who hasn't played since Aug. 16 against the Chicago Fire, could also see action Saturday. Mapp has been bothered by a groin injury all season but practised Wednesday.
"It's good to be back," he said. "I've been out for a little while now, but it's good to be out there with the guys.
"It feels good to touch the ball, and to play a little bit as opposed to just running around the field."
Captain Patrice Bernier (foot) and goalkeeper Troy Perkins (back) are both doubtful.
NOTES: Columbus is looking for its fifth straight home win . . . Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark is fifth overall with 91 saves. … Defender Krzysztof Krol returns to Montreal's lineup after serving a one-game red card suspension. … Columbus has signed Emanuel Pogatetz, the former Middlesbrough defender and Austrian national team captain.