Jozy Altidore is looking like a prophet.
On Aug. 26, the Toronto FC striker mused that it would be "beautiful" to knock the rival Impact out of the Major League Soccer playoffs. The next day, TFC beat them 3-1 in Montreal.
The victory ended the Impact's four-game winning streak and they haven't won a match since, losing four in a row to drop six points out of the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with six games left in the regular season.
They are set to meet again Wednesday at BMO Field in Toronto, with TFC riding a six-game winning run in which they outscored their opponents 21-3. The Reds will be without Altidore for the match though, according to head coach Greg Vanney, and there are question marks surrounding the availability of Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez.
Toronto (18-3-8) is the league's runaway leader with 62 points from 29 games, but now Montreal (10-12-6) has a chance to stall their bid for the Los Angeles Galaxy's record for points in a season, which is either 67 points (under current rules) or 68 (from when there were no draws and games were settled by shootouts).
"When you play Toronto, it's just that you want to beat them," Impact captain Patrice Bernier said Monday. "Now Altidore, a DP [designated player] from Toronto said it, but I've said that and I think [Toronto midfielder] Jonathan Osorio has said it before.
"Now it's just that the rivalry has scaled up. We'll do everything possible to win and, yeah, if we can knock some points off them that would be great. But now we have to do everything possible to win. We're not going to think of where they are because we have to continue to fight and keep ourselves alive to make the playoffs."
Reds undefeated since Canada Day
It will be a tall order. Toronto hasn't lost since a 3-1 setback in Dallas on July 1, going 8-0-3 since then. They are 11-0-3 at home this season. And they always seem to have a little extra energy when they play Montreal.
The teams played a wild Eastern Conference final last fall, with the Impact taking a 3-0 lead in the first leg at home only to give up two late goals. The two-game series was won by Toronto in overtime in the second leg. TFC also beat Montreal in the Canadian Cup final this season.
The match in Toronto starts a stretch of four games in 11 days which also takes the Impact to Atlanta on Sunday, back home against New York City on Sept. 27 and at Colorado on Sept. 30. Then they play in Toronto again on Oct. 15 before finishing the season Oct. 22 against New England.
Montreal owner asks for 'patience'
With the form they've shown lately, it may to be too much for a team that dug itself into a hole by losing its last three home games, including a 3-2 stinker to expansion Minnesota on Saturday night.
Such was the frustration on social media from Montreal fans, and team president and owner Joey Saputo issued a statement Sunday night.
"Our team's latest performance has clearly fallen short of our expectations and those of our members, supporters and city," it read. "Rest assured that this message has been conveyed to the technical staff and the players.
"Having said that, at the beginning of the year, we presented a timeline with some very clear objectives as to where this club wants to be in the next five years. Today, our resolve and our objectives have not changed."
Bernier said the players were well aware of how Saputo felt about their performance.
"We can't lie," he said. "The standings and our last performances say exactly what the situation is.
"The president expressed his disappointment. In Europe, this is normal. Maybe in Montreal we're not used to it because other sports teams don't have that."
The Impact made the playoffs in three of their first five MLS seasons but this season has been a struggle, with points repeatedly lost to blown leads, defensive lapses and missed opportunities.
Two reports said Nick De Santis, Saputo's vice-president and right-hand man, blasted the players in the dressing room on Sunday, imploring them not to try to get coach Mauro Biello fired. Star midfielder Ignacio Piatti reportedly answered back that not only the players, but coaches and management were also to blame for the team's woes.
"We have very good players, a fantastic roster with top players in the league like Nacho [Piatti]," said defender Hassoun Camara. "But we're missing something for sure because in the end we cannot be in this position.
"It's about cohesion. We have things between us as players and staff but it stays between us. We have to do everything to stick together and work together. We're paid to be here and we have to be professional to the end."