Nick Sabetti: The Impact’s end of season incentives

The Montreal Impact’s expansion season is slowly coming to a close, but now’s not the time to take the foot off the pedal as there’s still a couple important things to play for.

Three games to go. That’s it. That’s all that remains of the Montreal Impact’s first season in MLS. And in a way, head coach Jesse Marsch and company can’t wait for it all to be over and for next season to come around so that the team can make another - but this time more serious - run at the playoffs. That the team came close this season, despite only finding its groove towards the end of the campaign, means there’s plenty of belief and expectation for next year.

However, the Impact are still in the race for this season’s playoffs, though the likelihood of making them is, to say the least, remote.

To make the playoffs, the Impact will need to win their last three games, hope the Houston Dynamo lose its remaining three games, hope the Columbus Crew is kept to a single point in its remaining three games, and then, with the three teams tied on points, hope they’ve scored the most goals between them.

So barring a miracle, Montreal won’t be making the playoffs, but there’s no point giving up when there’s only three games to go.

But as Marsch told reporters last week, the new objective is for his side to finish ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps in the overall standings - the Impact are two points behind the Whitecaps with a game in hand.

The good thing about finishing ahead of the Whitecaps – and league cellar dwellers Toronto FC – is, of course, bragging rights. The Impact might not make the playoffs, but they can still say they’re the best team north of the border.

Finishing ahead of the Whitecaps would also bode well for next year’s Amway Canadian Championship as the Impact would play FC Edmonton instead of Toronto FC in the semfinal round. Playing Edmonton would make for an easier passage to the final, and would also enable Montreal to rest some of its key players as well in what will likely be a busy period in the match calendar.

What to do with Nelson Rivas

Sporting Director Nick De Santis knew exactly what he was getting when he signed former Inter Milan defender Nelson Rivas: a relatively high caliber defender, but with a history of almost incessant injuries. In the five years before joining the Impact, Rivas didn’t even get to play 50 games and so signing the Colombian was always going to be a big risk.

It turned out that Rivas didn’t play much this season either: less than eleven games, in fact. And this week, the Impact announced that Rivas underwent surgery to treat a micro fracture in his left knee. He will thus be sidelined for five months and will miss the remainder of the year.

“It’s unfortunate to lose him for the last three games of the season, but we felt this was the best time for him to get the surgery,” De Santis stated in a club press release. “We want to ensure that he comes back in full form to reclaim his starting spot as central defender next season.”

Rivas told in September that he still has one year left on his contract and Montreal will then have an option to extend his contract for two more years. According to the player's union, Rivas only makes $50,000, so having him for another year won’t be such a big burden, but the Impact should prepare their next season as if Rivas won’t be available to them.

If he does get healthy again next season, or if he’s able to play once in a while, that’s fine. But he can’t be depended on and De Santis should start thinking about a more steady replacement.

Nick Sabetti covers the Montreal Impact for Canada.