Montreal Impact ready to take their act outdoors

Montreal has been able to practise outdoors for their match Saturday on the road against the Columbus Crew.
Donovan Ricketts is expected to start in net again for Montreal in their next MLS match. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The unusually warm weather that swept into the northeast this week was a godsend for the Montreal Impact.

The summerlike conditions allowed them to move training from their usual indoor facility to a municipal park to prepare for their first open air game after starting their inaugural Major League Soccer season with two matches in domed stadiums.

All that was missing was a grass field to get ready for a game on the real stuff when they visit the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon.

"I never thought I'd play or coach in this league and see two indoor games in a row, but now it's time to play outside," coach Jesse Marsch said after training at the Town of Mount Royal recreation centre on Thursday.

The team will get a practice on a grass pitch at Crew Stadium on Friday.

The Impact lost its first MLS game 2-0 at B.C. Place in Vancouver and got its first MLS point with a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire last weekend before nearly 59,000 fans at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Both were emotionally charged games as the club took its first steps in a new league, but Marsch sees the match in Columbus as more like the routine they will face for the rest of the season.

"We knew how important those first two games were, but they're almost isolated from everything else because the excitement of a irst game overall and a first home game almost overwhelms the process of moving the team along in the right way," he said. "So I actually feel like now we can get to normalcy."

Their draw at home was almost like a win as the team, and particularly midfielder Felipe and forward Sanna Nyassi, played much better than the previous week in Vancouver. They also got a first MLS goal from captain Davy Arnaud.

Nyassi missed training Thursday with an injury but Marsch said he should be ready to play on the right side in Columbus.

If so, there should be no changes to the starting 11 from the first two games, although Marsch said he may give more minutes to recently signed Italian striker Bernardo Corradi, who was a 77th minute substitute for Justin Braun against Chicago.

It will be a big week for left back Josh Gardner, who was picked from Columbus in the expansion draft.

The Crew, who finished fourth in the Eastern Conference last season with a 13-13-8 record, opened their season with a 2-0 loss in Colorado but was off last week, playing two exhibitions against university teams instead. The Impact game will be their home opener.

"Columbus is a very good team at home," said Gardner. "Every player comes out to battle.

"It's important for us to attack their back line. I think we have them for pace. If we can exploit their defence, I think we'll have opportunities for shots on goal."

Arnaud said the Crew are also a dangerous team on free kicks and corners.

"They've lived off set pieces for the last few years," the 10-year veteran said. "They have Chad Marshall in the back who scores a lot of goals off those. So we'll have to be ready for that."

The Impact are hoping to become a more cohesive group each game and that seemed to be the case against Chicago, when they controlled much of the play.

"The result wasn't what we wanted but the performance was good and we've taken some confidence from that," said Arnaud. "We know that we're capable of playing well and creating chances. There's been a good atmosphere this week."

The Impact should have Donovan Ricketts making a third straight start in goal, with Gardner, Jason Wahl, Matteo Ferrari and Jeb Brovsky on the back line. Midfield has Justin Mapp, Patrice Bernier, Felip and Arnaud with Braun and Nyassi up front.

The entire roster, plus five members of the Impact Academy, will make the trip as there will be a reserve game immediately after the main event.

Marsch said getting the reserves some game action is important because they may be needed next week, when there are three games in succession at New York March 31, at Salt Lake on April 4 and back home at Olympic Stadium against Toronto FC on April 7.

He said that team president Joey Saputo getting them a charter flight for the trip was "a treat."