Impact look to stretch unbeaten run to six despite injuries, suspensions

MONTREAL — The starting 11 changes drastically from game to game, but the Montreal Impact continue to put up points.

Injuries, an alarming run of red cards and suspensions and other issues has had coach Mauro Biello patching together lineups as the Impact go through a stretch of six games in 21 days that winds up with a visit from slumping D.C. United (13-11-6) on Saturday.

The Impact (11-11-6) have three wins and a pair of hard-fought draws on the west coast so far in that span, which coincides with Biello taking over as coach from Frank Klopas and the arrival of star striker Didier Drogba on a previously goal-challenged outfit.

“The message as been the same from the beginning: everyone is important and everyone has to contribute to the success of the team,” Biello said Friday. “It’s about being ready when you’re called upon.”

For Saturday’s game, the Impact will be without defender Laurent Ciman and midfielder Andres Romero due to suspensions and midfielders Justin Mapp (toe) and Calum Mallace (foot) with injuries. Also, star midfielder Ignacio Piatti will miss a second game while at home in Argentina attending to his ailing father.

Among them, only Ciman started a 2-1 win Wednesday over the Chicago Fire, so changes could be light this time. In their previous game, a 3-0 victory over New England, there were five different starters from the game before. The two games before that had nine new faces out of 11.

“We’ve been able to rotate people in and out and everyone’s done a great job,” said forward Dominic Oduro. “Also, the locker room has been really good and Didier coming in has had a great influence on everybody.

“We’re all following a great leader out there and that’s what’s making everything happen now.”

Marco Donadel should return to a holding midfield spot beside Nigel Reo-Coker and they have Dilly Duka, Johan Venegas and Oduro as attacking midfielders. Either Wandrille Lefevre or Hassoun Camara can take Ciman’s spot in the central defence.

Drogba, the former Chelsea and Ivory Coast star, has been a towering presence in the Montreal attack, with five goals in four starts. When he is not scoring himself he is distracting defences and opening room for others.

He could make a difference against D.C., which has beaten Montreal twice this season, both times by 1-0. In their last meeting Aug. 8 at Saputo Stadium, the Impact outshot D.C. 25-1 but United’s Chris Rolfe had the only goal.

A concern for Biello is discipline. The have had a man sent off in three consecutive matches: Ambroise Oyongo in a 1-1 tie in San Jose, Donadel against New England and Ciman. Romero got a game for yellow card accumulation when he took off his shirt after scoring a goal, which draws an automatic caution.

They have managed to close out the wins, but Biello knows they are playing with fire and asked his players for better judgement.

The player movement has kept the bench busy and some players, ignored under Klopas, are more upbeat from getting a chance to perform.

Biello hopes it will all settle down heading into the playoffs. Montreal holds the sixth and last playoff spot in the MLS Eastern Conference and hopes to move up over the final six regular season games.

“Some changes have been dictated by me, but eventually I’d like to have some continuity in the lineup,” said Biello. “I think it was important that I rotate the lineup in this run of games with the amount of games and travel we had.

“At one point, it’s important to have continuity in certain positions moving into the playoffs.”

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press