MONTREAL - The Montreal Impact smell blood.
The club's final group stage match in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday night will come against a New York Red Bulls' team that is already eliminated from contention for the quarter-finals.
And the Red Bulls will likely sit out most of their best players to save them for a Major League Soccer match on Sunday that has playoff implications.
It is a glittering chance for the Impact to finish the group stage with a perfect 4-0-0 record and perhaps earn one of the top four seeds for the quarter-finals.
But coach Frank Klopas cautioned this week that the Impact can't expect to walk into Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., and take the three points without any effort, even if New York opts to use mostly reserve players.
"The game they played here against us (a 1-0 Montreal win on Sept. 17), they played some guys that are not in their starting group, but there's a lot for all those guys to play for," said Klopas. "It's the end of the season, and maybe it's an opportunity to impress their coach.
"They have a lot to prove. They're playing for contracts. But regardless of who we play, we have to focus on ourselves. And it's another opportunity to get a win on the road. It's not MLS, but it counts."
On the downside, the Impact will be without arguably their two best players, as midfielder Ignacio Piatti is nursing tendinitis in a knee and striker Marco Di Vaio has a one-game suspension.
Otherwise, they expect to field a strong lineup.
The Impact have had a miserable MLS season, sitting last in the Eastern Conference thanks largely to a 0-12-5 record away from home.
But they won the Canadian Championship, which put them into the Champions League group stage, where they already have an away win over CD FAS of El Salvador. Montreal clinched a quarter-final spot when the Red Bulls (1-1-1) were held to a draw by CD FAS.
And the club has its 3-2 away win in San Salvador on Aug. 20 to build on.
"Now we can do it again," said midfielder Maxim Tissot. "It'll be big for us to get momentum for next year.
"We've been playing better. Maybe it's because we don't have the stress of trying to make the playoffs, but we've been moving the ball better."
The fifth-place Red Bulls have made the MLS playoffs, but a win Sunday in Kansas City can move them into third place and avoid the fourth versus fifth knockout game. Or it could give them home field advantage if they come fourth and have to play the knock-out match against either Kansas City or Columbus.
To finish with four wins would give Montreal a chance to play the quarter-final return leg at home. Theoretically, it would also give them a weaker opponent, although all eight teams in the quarter-finals should be tough.
Tissot said Montreal hopes to draw a fellow MLS side.
The quarter-finals will be played between Feb. 24 and March 5, when MLS teams are still in training camp but clubs from Mexico and Central America will be in mid-season.
"I'd prefer to play a team from MLS," Tissot said. "That may not be best for the league, but it may be best for us because we'll know the team we're facing.
"No matter who we play, we have to be ready. But we want as much on our side as possible."
MLS clubs D.C. United and the Portland Timbers are also 3-0-0 headed into their final group stage match.
Montreal reached the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2009. That year, they beat Santos Laguna 2-0 at home before more than 55,000 at Olympic Stadium only to collapse in the second half of a 5-2 defeat in the return leg in Mexico.
Now they've earned another shot.
"It's big for the club," said Tissot, a Gatineau, Que. native who was playing youth soccer at that time. "We'll want to get our revenge.
"We lost in a pretty difficult way. I think (president) Joey Saputo and (general manager) Nick De Santis still remember. (Assistant GM) Matt Jordan played in that game, so he remembers. We'll want to win for them especially."
The Impact won't be in next year's Champions League. That spot has already gone to the Vancouver Whitecaps. A rule change for this year only gives the 2015 CONCACAF spot to the Canadian team that finished highest in MLS standings.
Normally, it goes to the club that wins the Canadian Championship trophy, the Voyageurs Cup.