TORONTO — The travel-weary Montreal Impact will be missing some star power Saturday when they face Toronto FC in MLS play.
Marquee striker Didier Drogba (toe) and influential playmaker Ignacio Piatti (calf) did not feature in Montreal's midweek Amway Canadian Championship loss in Vancouver and didn't make the trip to Toronto. Defender Hassoun Camara (thigh) is also absent.
The Impact flew directly to Toronto following their 2-0 loss to the Whitecaps, a game that saw Montreal play a man down for 60 minutes after Victor Cabrera was sent off for a second yellow card.
"It's never too easy to swallow but we have a chance to bounce back right away with a game against another rival," said Impact midfielder Maxim Tissot.
Saturday's game, part of the MLS's Rivalry Week, is important for both Toronto and Montreal as they look for some separation in the tight Eastern Conference standings. Toronto (10-10-4) goes into the weekend in fourth place with 34 points while Montreal (8-10-4) holds onto the last playoff spot in sixth with 28 points.
New York City FC and Orlando City also have 28 points, ahead of Philadelphia (27) and Chicago (26).
"This is one of those matches where you determine your direction a little bit," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney, "Whether you're competing for that playoff spot or you're really going to push towards the top."
Said Montreal coach Frank Klopas: "Every game that you're playing in the East, it's a team that's competing for the same thing you are because it's so tight. There's no easy games and every point does count."
That makes dropping eight of a possible nine points from its last three home games particularly painful for Montreal.
Toronto, meanwhile, is searching for consistency after a series of up-and-down outings.
Vanney's team has not won back-to-back league games since a three-match win streak from late May to early June. Since then Toronto's run of form has been LWTLTWTLWLLW (4-5-3).
"I still don't think we've hit our stride yet, to be honest," said midfielder Jonathan Osorio.
With eight of its 10 remaining games at home, Toronto is well-placed to finally find its groove.
Toronto is coming off a record-setting 5-0 win over visiting Orlando City while Montreal lost 1-0 at home last weekend to Philadelphia in a game that saw Drogba make his MLS debut in the 59th minute.
Drogba's toe injury is deemed day-to-day. He was scheduled to go to Vancouver but Klopas said doctors, concerned by some swelling, told him that there was a risk of aggravating the injury due to the travel combined with playing on turf to the point where he could be sidelined for a month.
"The swelling is still a little bit in there," Klopas said.
"He's doing whatever he can," he added. "It's been frustrating but I have to take it one day a time with him and also with Piatti."
The Impact are 3-3-2 since losing 3-1 in Toronto on June 24.
Montreal has yet to win in Toronto since entering MLS, with five losses and four draws in nine meetings in all competitions at BMO Field.
Playing against 10-man Orlando, Toronto showed what it can do on a good day. The highlight was the third goal, scored by fullback Justin Morrow with an assist from captain Michael Bradley after a buildup that lasted more than two minutes and featured 45-plus passes.
"When we start to string passes together, then we move defenders around and spaces open up for us," said Vanney. "And we have very quick players, very clever players, guys who burst through gaps."
Toronto has scored several such highlight-reel goals during the season but has struggled at the other end of the pitch, ranking 19th in goals-against at 1.71 per game.
A win Saturday would allow Toronto to match its franchise record off 11 in a season, set in 2014 (11-15-8).
Toronto's injury concerns are Brazilian fullback/midfielder Jackson (hamstring) and Polish international defender Damien Perquis (hip flexor/quad). Both are unlikely to play Saturday.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press