NEWS
05/06/2016 09:49 EDT | Updated 05/07/2017 01:12 EDT

East-leading Impact head to Columbus no longer fearful of playing on the road

MONTREAL — The road is a less scary place for the Montreal Impact these days.

The MLS Eastern Conference leaders go into Columbus on Saturday with a 2-2-1 away record this season, giving them a 4-4-3 mark in road games since Mauro Biello took over from Frank Klopas as head coach and scoring star Didier Drogba started playing regularly last Sept. 5.

Before that, Montreal was 8-40-14 in away games in a little more than three and a half seasons in MLS, including 0-12-5 in the disastrous 2014 campaign.

"I guess the coaching staff brought in not just a mindset, but a lot more information," team captain Patrice Bernier said Friday. "And they bought in a way they wanted the team to be, no matter who is in the lineup.

"We got results and that makes you believe even more. And maybe we got rid of the mental factor we had in the past when we didn't collect points on the road. We used to think 'can we get one point?' Now we know we can get victories."

There are no teams with a winning road record this season, although Toronto FC's 3-3-2 in eight straight road games to start the season may be just as good as one. Last season, the Vancouver Whitecaps had the league's best away record at 7-7-3. All the other teams were below .500.

The Impact finished the 2015 season on a 7-2-2 tear, including 2-2-2 on the road, to take third place in the East. After getting past TFC in a one-game playoff, they won the opening leg of the conference semifinal 2-1 over the Crew only to lose 3-1 in extra time in the second leg in Columbus.

Away wins are particularly hard to find in MLS, where teams often have to travel long distances on commercial flights and across time zones. With a salary cap, there also is not a great difference in talent among the 20 teams. And, like in most sports, calls often go in favour of the home side.

"It's a phenomenon in this league," Biello said of the challenges on the road. "There's a lot of parity.

"Every game is important. It's a long season and you can't take your foot off the pedal at any moment, at home or on the road, because any team at any moment can sneak a win. It goes back to being ready mentally. You have to be ready to suffer in those moments and, if you do, your chances will be much better."

After beating Montreal, the Crew went to the MLS Cup final last season, losing to Portland. They had a formidable attack led by 22-goal scorer Kai Kamara, Federico Huguain and Justin Meram, but the offence has stalled this season with only seven goals in eight games. Columbus (2-4-2), woke up with two wins but then fell 1-0 in Seattle last week.

The Impact (4-3-2) have a tenuous hold on first place in the East after going 0-1-2 in a three-games-in-eight-days stretch last week, blowing leads twice in a 2-2 draw at home with Colorado last Saturday.

"We haven't been at our best," said Biello. "We fell into some injury trouble, but players have come in and shown they're ready to contribute."

Drogba, who got a scare when defender Victor Cabrera stepped on his foot in training this week, is OK and will make the trip, the coach said.

A decision has yet to be made on whether Cabrera will be in the starting 11 after missing two games with a concussion. Academy product Wandrille Lefevre has filled in capably.