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Impact defender Ciman not short on motivation for first-place battle with Union

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba celebrates his goal against the Colorado Rapids with teammate Maxim Tissot during first half MLS action in Montreal on April 30, 2016. At some point, the Montreal Impact need to start winning games if they hope to stay atop the MLS Eastern Conference standings. Mauro Biello's squad is winless in its last four games, although it had draws in its last three matches. A win is needed. The Philadelphia Union, who visit Saputo Stadium on Saturday, are only one point behind. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
May 13, 2016 - 6:34 PM

MONTREAL - Laurent Ciman will have extra motivation when the Montreal Impact play host to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday at Saputo Stadium.

Last season's defender of the year in Major League Soccer is still stinging from being left off Belgium's 23-man squad for the European Championship.

And he hasn't forgotten a rare bad game last week when the Impact needed to overcome a three-goal deficit to earn a 4-4 draw in Columbus.

"It will be an important game," Ciman said Friday. "We hope the stadium is full.

"After the Columbus game, we owe one to our supporters and I owe one to the team, so I'm ready for this game. I hope we show up because we're playing for first place. Even if it's too early to talk about a championship, we want to stay in first place. They have a good team, but we need to show we're not where we are by luck."

The Impact (4-3-3) are only one point up on the Union (4-3-2), who have a game in hand. Philadelphia stretched its unbeaten run to three games with a 2-2 tie at home against the red-hot Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday night.

Those who see the glass as half-full would say Montreal also has a three-game unbeaten streak, all draws. The Impact have gone four in a row without a victory and have yet to win in two games at Saputo, although they took a pair of home games earlier at Olympic Stadium.

They are fortunate to still be in top spot with a record that would not put them in playoff position in the stronger Western Conference.

"I don't think we're feeling pressure," said midfielder Kyle Bekker. "We put pressure on ourselves because we know we can be better.

"The start to the season we had showed what our potential is."

The Union, who have made the playoffs only once (in 2011) in their first six seasons in MLS, will be at a disadvantage in playing on only three days rest and playing on the road, where they are 1-3-0 this season.

But they have been one of the surprise teams, even while giving plenty of playing time to youngsters at the back, including the 2014 first-overall draft pick, goalie Andre Blake, and two defenders taken second and third overall respectively in the 2016 draft — centreback Joshua Yaro and rightback Keegan Rosenberry, who scored the tying goal against the Galaxy.

After the game against L.A., Union coach Jim Curtin signalled his club's new-found confidence by saying: "This team is not scared of anyone."

Philadelphia has been one of the best defensive clubs in the league, while veterans like Chris Pontius and Sebastien Le Toux and a newcomer, Swiss playmaker Tranquillo Barnetta, give the club a dangerous attack.

"Their team has shown a lot of character," said Montreal coach Mauro Biello. "They defend well as a unit.

"It's tricky because they're a high press team with lots of energy going forward, but they played Wednesday, so maybe they will sit. We have to be ready for both. If they press, how will we react? And if they sit low, how do we unbalance them? We worked on it this week so, whatever they show, we need to be ready."

Biello can at least count on veteran striker Didier Drogba to be in the lineup. The Ivorian banged up a leg in training this week and didn't practice on Friday but will be available for the match. Drogba has three goals and three assists in six games.

Defender Hassoun Camara is also ready to return, likely as a late substitute for now.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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