11/07/2015 13:36 EST | Updated 11/07/2016 00:12 EST

Impact draw on Champions League experience in second leg in Columbus

MONTREAL — Playing the pressure-packed second leg of a playoff series is nothing new to the Montreal Impact.

They were in three of them last winter and spring in an unexpected run to the CONCACAF Champions League final.

And they hope to draw on that experience in the decisive game of their MLS Eastern Conference semifinal against the Crew in Columbus on Sunday.

Montreal takes a one-goal lead in the two games, total goals series after winning 2-1 at home in the first leg. 

"We've been on both sides of it, having the second leg at home or away, so we know what to expect," goalkeeper Evan Bush said Saturday. "The series that gave us trouble in the Champions League, that almost got away from us, was the (semifinal) in Costa Rica when we were away the second leg."

Montreal won the first leg 2-0 at home and were tied 2-2 in the second when Alajuelense poured on the attack, scoring two late goals. The Costa Ricans tied the series 4-4, but Montreal won on the away goals rule.

"It got a little hectic," Bush recalled. "We didn't manage it great.

"We got out with the result we needed, but I think we learned a lot from that. If we can go back on what we learned in that game, we'll be in a good position."

The Impact were seconds from defeat in the second leg at home in the quarter-finals against Pachuca of Mexico, but a Hail Mary pass from Calum Mallace to rookie Cameron Porter produced a miraculous stoppage time goal to give Montreal the series, also on away goals.

They lost the final 5-3 on aggregate to Mexican powerhouse Club America.

Learning to deal with those pressure moments should help the Impact in Columbus.

"We're able to manage it better now when the crowd gets into it in the second half and they're pushing more numbers forward," said Bush. "A lot of teams aren't used to a two-legged series.

"The team that's home in the second leg may not know what it takes to manage it. They go down a goal and maybe they get impatient, throw numbers forward and leave spaces behind. We hope that's the case with Columbus, but they're a well-managed team. They've got some smart players, so I don't think they'll be too impatient."

Already down a goal, Columbus will be under pressure to score. The Impact expect the Crew to come out on the attack.

"It's up to us to be solid in the back and work together to get through the first 20 minutes and not give up any goals," said left back Ambroise Oyongo.

The Impact are on a roll. They have won five straight games and are 9-2-2 since Sept. 5, when international star Didier Drogba became a regular starter and when Mauro Biello replaced Frank Klopas as head coach. They have won all three games against the Crew this year by a combined 7-2.

The first-leg win was the toughest, as the Impact were playing on only three days rest after beating Toronto FC 3-0 in the knockout stage.

Now, they've had a full week to prepare and to rest some older players, like 37-year-old Drogba.

"Our momentum has been great," said midfielder Dominic Oduro. "As much as I want to go on our Champions League experience, we can't rely on that.

"We have to rely on our instinct and how good we've been playing and how solid we are in our chemistry right now."

The Impact elected to practise — away from prying eyes — at their training centre before flying out on Saturday afternoon.


Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press