Suddenly, the playoffs are not such a sure thing for the Montreal Impact.

Consecutive losses at home to Columbus and Vancouver have dropped the Impact to third place in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference, and four of their six remaining regular season games are on the road.

They hope to get back on track Saturday night against the sixth-place Fire in Chicago, although they will be missing attacking midfielder Felipe Martins, who will serve a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.

"If we had taken four points from the last two home games it would have been different for sure," midfielder Patrice Bernier said Friday. "But you can't worry about that.

"We know we have to play some games away and we have to come out of them with points. The two games we had at home were bumps in the road."

The top five teams in each conference make the playoffs, and the Impact lead fourth-place Houston by two points and fifth-place New England by five, with a game in hand on both.

Wasted chance

But they wasted a chance to all-but clinch a post-season berth in only their second season in MLS with setbacks on home soil that came more from moments of sloppy defensive play than from being outplayed.

They hope that playing a more conservative game on the road will fix that. They are a decent 4-6-3 away from Saputo Stadium this season, and have a draw and a win in their last two road games.

"One thing we've worked on in training is not giving up any goals, so we'll have that in mind first," said left back Jeb Brovsky. "We got away from what worked in the first part of the season.

"If you look at what we did well in Seattle, Portland and New York, we only won 1-0. We didn't have controlled possession, but we played as a team, defended as a bloc and did all the right things to win. When we start pushing for goals or for possession, sometimes it lulls us to sleep so that, when we lose the ball, we're exposed to the counterattack."

Chicago can make opponents pay for mistakes.

Forward Mike Magee, with 16 goals, is tied for second in league scoring behind Montreal striker Marco Di Vaio's 18. And he got help up front with the mid-season signing of Juan Luis Anangono.

Edigio Rios is a clever passer in the midfield, and Chris Rolfe is another offensive threat.

Montreal beat the Fire 2-0 at home in April but lost 2-1 in Chicago on Aug. 10, when Felipe scored their only goal.

"Teams like that like to play against us because we like to play," said Bernier. "We're not as physical a team as Houston, and those are the games players tend to enjoy because it's more of a technical, tactical game than a fight of athleticism.

"So we have to be well aware of those players, especially when we attack, because counterattacks are what most teams try to get on us."

Replacing Felipe

It will be Montreal's fifth game in 15 days, although two were in the CONCACAF Champions League. On Tuesday, a team of mostly bench players looked sharp in beating CD Heredia 2-0, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Impact from being eliminated from the competition.

Coach Marco Schallibaum did not say who will replace Felipe. Options would include Andrea Pisanu or Sanna Nyassi, or even Daniele Paponi in a two-forward formation with Di Vaio.

Designated player Hernan Bernardello has his sprained ankle out of a brace and has been running hard this week, but Schallibaum does not expect him to play in Chicago or next week in Houston. He could return for a home game Oct. 12 against New England.

Chicago will de without defender Bakare Soumare, who is suspended one game for taking a red card in a 3-0 loss to Columbus last week. The Fire are 9-4-2 at home this season.