The Montreal Impact have only been in the MLS for four seasons, yet in those four seasons they accomplished more than other Canadian MLS team has to date. Although their first playoff run in 2013 was disastrous, it shouldn't be looked at as a precursor of what will happen tomorrow at Saputo Stadium. In fact, the 2013 playoffs should be considered an anomaly for the Montreal Impact.
Why Should We Ignore 2013?
First and foremost, almost the entire Impact roster has undergone massive changes. The core of players that the 2013 Impact was built around are almost all gone, and even the few that remain aren't an integral part of the team this season. Secondly, the way the Impact made the playoffs this year is vastly different than the way the team qualified in 2013. As opposed to scoreboard watching and hoping that other teams lost in order for them to gain entry to the big dance, this year's Impact won crucial games and qualified based on their own achievements.
The 2013 Impact started off their season blazing hot, only losing twice in their first 12 games. I remember falling victim to the hype surrounding the team, I genuinely believed that we were one of the best teams in the MLS. Then, as it always does, reality set in. Saying that the second half of the 2013 seasons was a roller coaster would be an understatement.
The Impact closed out their season by losing six of their last ten games. This terrible form to close the year led to the Impact relying on other teams results for a playoff spot. This backdoor entry into the playoffs should have been an omen of things to come. This team was not ready for playoff soccer, and it showed against the Houston Dynamo, at the BBVA Compass Stadium. The Impact were shutout three to zero and got three red cards in the process. That 2013 showed their true colors the ensuing season when they finished dead last in the league.
Why 2015 is different
First off, the makeup of the 2015 Montreal Impact is vastly different than that of the team in 2013. This year's squad is easily the greatest in club history. Be it Laurent Ciman who is the spine of the defense, or Didier Drogba up front who scores goals at will.
This year's team is just different. The Impact controlled their own playoff destiny all season, and when it really mattered the team showed up to play. Although their road woes are well documented, the team at home is almost unstoppable. This bodes well for them, as tomorrow's game is at Saputo Stadium.
As I said before, when it really mattered this season the Impact came in clutch. A perfect example of this being this past Sunday at Saputo Stadium. A win would guarantee a home playoff game and a positive end to the season. Although the first half didn't go as planned the second half more than made up for it.
Mauro Biello proved why he should be the teams full time coach with timely subs, and Didier Drogba showed why he's considered one of the greatest of all time in his position. The Impact knew what a win meant, and they went out and got it.
One of the major reasons the 2013 iteration of the Impact didn't succeed in the playoffs was their relative lack of playoff experience together as a team. This year's team though has the benefit of having participated in the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League. As any Montreal knows, the Impact caused quite a stir in last years tournament making it all the way to the finals.
Although the outcome wasn't one that we desired, the experience the team gained by playing together in this tournament is priceless. The roster was thrown into the fire and came out looking better than ever. They gelled under immense pressure and somehow managed to come out of the tournament stronger than ever. Under these circumstances most teams would crumble, the Impact did the exact opposite.
The Drogba Effect
Didier Drogba may not have been on the Impact's CCL roster, but that doesnt really matter. His eleven goals in eleven games shows that he and his team mates are all on the same page. It also shows that he is the elite attacker that the Impact have yearned for since the departure of Marco Di Vaio. Also added to his immense skill, is the fact that Drogba has boatloads of experience in high pressure situations. He's played in World Cups, UEFA Champions League finals and countless other big games in the EPL. The MLS playoffs won't be a problem for him.
Will We Win?
Everything I've written above may give you the idea that I'm overly-confident in the Impact...well thats not the case. Id be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about tomorrow's game. TFC is a damn good team and we the fans should not underestimate them because we've beaten them already. TFC will come out hungry, and the Impact can ill afford another start like last Sundays.
In the end though, all this and more will be answered tomorrow night at Saputo Stadium.
All I can really say is, lets not look back at history. Lets create some history.