MONTREAL — It could get nasty when the Montreal Impact play host to first-place D.C. United on Saturday night.
The Impact will be without their best defender, Laurent Ciman, while facing a previously low-scoring club that got nine goals in two games since acquiring Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio from Salt Lake.
And angry fans are expected to chant the name of popular midfielder Patrice Bernier, who is taking a few days away from the team to try to quiet a controversy that erupted this week when his wife criticized the team for not using him.
It is quite the contrast to a week ago, when the Impact were the toast of the town after signing former Chelsea star Didier Drogba. The Ivorian striker is working his way into shape and is not expected to dress for the game.
But the Impact hope to regroup and pull out a win against a D.C. side that, despite leading the Eastern Conference with 41 points from 24 matches, has struggled on the road this season.
Sixth-place Montreal (8-8-4) takes a three-game unbeaten streak into a second meeting this week with a top conference opponent.
D.C. (12-7-5) is coming off a pair of wins at home, including a comeback 6-4 decision over Salt Lake in their last outing.
"They're like New York (Red Bulls), a top team," said goalkeeper Evan Bush. "They are composed and they play to win.
"For Salt Lake to put up four goals and for them to come back and win shows the kind of team they have, so we have to respect them. But at home, we play fantastic. That's to our advantage and with a crowd like that, anything's possible."
A season high crowd of 19,213 had Saputo Stadium rocking for a 1-1 draw with the second-place Red Bulls on Wednesday night. Ticket sales and interest in the club soared after the Drogba signing.
But in the 79th minute, Ciman drew a second yellow card, which earned an expulsion and an automatic one-game suspension. The Belgian has been a rock in the central defence this season, starting 19 of 20 games.
His likely replacement is Wandrille Lefevre, who would make his fifth start of the campaign.
"I've been ready every game for three years now," said Lefevre. "I love the club and I'm ready to step in when I'm called up.
"For sure there's pressure because they're the first place team in the east and there's also pressure because we didn't get the result we wanted (against New York)."
Coach Frank Klopas feels that Lefevre, a native of France who recently got Canadian citizenship, can do the job.
"Wandrille's always been a guy who has stepped in and played well when we needed him," said Klopas. "I think he can't wait for the opportunity."
Montreal lost 1-0 at D.C. in the regular season opener on March 7, when midfielder Justin Mapp dislocated an elbow in a crash with goalie Bill Hamid.
Forward Dominic Oduro, whose playing time may dwindle when Drogba is ready, has four goals in the last five games and has a goal in each of the last two.
It will be a second game for recently acquired Costa Rican midfielder Johan Venegas, who saw 28 minutes of action against New York.
And holding midfielder Marco Donadel will return from a one-game suspension.
It was Donadel's absence that raised expectation that Bernier would get a fourth start of the season, but Klopas opted to go with Eric Alexander alongside Calum Mallace. Bernier, of Brossard, Que., went on in the 77th minute for Mallace to a rousing cheer from the crowd.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press