Impact in tough again against expansion team
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MONTREAL - Expansion teams in Major League Soccer are not the collections of cast-offs found in other North American sports leagues.
No one knows that better than Montreal Impact coach Frank Klopas, who was a striker for the Chicago Fire squad that won both the MLS championship and U.S. Open Cup as a first-year franchise in 1998.
"We won the double," Klopas recalled Friday. "Things are different now, but always with expansion teams, it takes time but if you have quality, it'll come together."
The Impact (4-5-2) face an expansion team for a second straight week Saturday night at Saputo Stadium when they take on Orlando City (5-5-5). Orlando has used a five-game unbeaten run to reach third place in the Eastern Conference with 20 points.
Last weekend, the Impact fell 3-1 at Yankee Stadium to newcomers New York City.
In MLS, teams sign their best players as free agents, mostly from Europe or South America, so they can bypass a slow build to respectability through the draft.
Orlando did that by signing Brazilian star Kaka, their scoring leader with seven goals, and adding veterans with MLS experience such as French defender Aurelien Collin and former Stoke City and Dallas FC defender Brek Shea.
They also found a pearl with the first overall SuperDraft pick Cyle Larin, a forward back from a stint with Canada's national team.
The Impact and Orlando played to a 2-2 draw at Olympic Stadium on March 28. Montreal saw a 2-0 lead evaporate on goals a minute apart from Kaka and fellow Brazilian Pedro Ribeiro.
This time, they'll play on a grass pitch, with the Impact in better form than at the start of the campaign when their focus was on the CONCACAF Champions League. Montreal has won four of the last six, including three straight at home.
In any other league, the Impact would still be considered an expansion team. They joined MLS in 2012 after 19 seasons in other leagues.
Montreal made the playoffs a year later but slipped to last overall last season.
"I've been here since we were an expansion team so I understand what it takes to break through," said goalkeeper Evan Bush. "Orlando's done that. New York City's still in a position where they're trying to figure it out.
"Orlando is in a good position. It has a good collection of stars like Kaka but also guys that have been in the league and know what it takes to have success in this league. There's so much parity in this league that an expansion team is just another team when it comes in."
The Impact went into New York last week following a first road win in Columbus. But Montreal fell behind early and was unable to climb back despite controlling most of the second half.
"We were on top of the game for the most part," said Bush. "There were a couple of mistakes that directly led to goals.
"If we can cut those out and be sharper and stay on top of the game, we won't have to chase the game."
Klopas said while midfielder Dilly Duka (concussion) and forward Dominic Oduro (groin) were close to returning, neither is likely to play. Cameroon defender Ambroise Oyongo is back from international duty and is ready.
A Klopas teammate on the 1998 Fire was Jesse Marsh, the Impact's expansion-year coach who now coaches the New York Red Bulls. Klopas scored the "golden goal" in the U.S. Open Cup final that year.