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Impact find scoring touch in time to match Toronto FC's torrid attack

Last Updated Nov 25, 2016 at 6:53 pm EDT

Montreal Impact's Didier Drogba, right, challenges Toronto FC's Eriq Zavaleta during second half soccer action of the first leg of the MLS eastern conference final at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal on November 22, 2016. Even with Didier Drogba playing a secondary role, the Montreal Impact attack has impressed in the MLS playoffs with 10 goals in four games. They will likely need at least one more goal as they go into the second leg of the Eastern Conference final with a 3-2 lead against Toronto FC. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL – The Montreal Impact have found their scoring touch just at the right time of year.

They’ll probably need it when they go into the second leg of the two-game MLS Eastern Conference final against a Toronto FC team that has been even better at filling the net in the playoffs.

Despite Ivorian legend Didier Drogba being used off the bench, the Impact have scored 10 goals — an average of 2.5 per game — while winning all four games they’ve played in the post-season. Toronto has 12 goals in four matches, or three per game.

“The team is scoring and we’re finding the right spots, with good delivery,” Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier said Friday. “As much as you want to prevent transition, it always happens.

“A team loses the ball and you have to be good at it. We’re lucky enough to have three guys up front that are quick. Nacho (Ignacio Piatti) off the dribble, but the other two (Matteo Mancosu and Dominic Oduro) have pace and find spots. With your strikers, confidence is what you want. Your offensive players get one or two chances and they score.”

The Impact, who averaged only 1.44 goals per game in the regular season, opened the playoffs with a 4-2 away win over D.C United, then beat the first-place New York Red Bulls 3-1 on aggregate in their conference semifinal.

They followed with a 3-2 victory at Olympic Stadium over TFC on Tuesday night, although the visitors may have claimed the advantage in the two-game, total goals series with two late away goals.

That gave TFC momentum going into the second leg on Wednesday at BMO Field in Toronto.

Before the loss in Montreal, TFC posted a 3-1 win over Philadelphia followed by a 7-0 aggregate wipeout of second-place New York City. Star forward Sebastian Giovinco and striker Jozy Altidore each have four goals and three assists, while Jonathan Osorio has a pair of goals in the post-season.

Tosaint Ricketts and Michael Bradley have also scored.

For Montreal, Piatti has three goals and two assists, Mancosu has four goals and an assist and Oduro has a goal and three assists. Defenders Laurent Ciman and Ambroise Oyongo have the Impact’s other goals.

Montreal’s attacking players started finding chemistry late in the regular season after coach Mauro Biello opted to use Drogba off the bench and give the starts to Mancosu, a veteran who joined the them in July on loan from Italian club Bologna. Oduro was put with them to provide speed on counterattacks.

In the first leg against Toronto, Bernier found Oduro alone on the right side in the 10th minute and, two minutes later, Oduro and Piatti combined to set up Mancosu’s goal for another lightning strike.

“We’ve stabilized the lineup and there’s confidence in our positional play,” said Biello. “The play by Patrice, he didn’t even have to look, he turned in the pocket and he knew where Oduro was.

“That’s from finding the stability in the lineup and them finding that cohesion among themselves in training every day. Now they’re feeling good about themselves and how they’re playing and that’s why we’re scoring goals.”

In the opener they played indoors on artificial turf, pushed on by the deafening roar of 61,004 fans. In Toronto, they will be outdoors in late November weather with a full house of about 37,000 cheering for TFC.

With their away goals as the tiebreaker, Toronto can take the series with wins of 1-0 or 2-1. Montreal will be looking to preserve its lead, but against a high-powered attacking team like TFC, they’ll likely need to score at least one to advance to the MLS Cup final.

“We’re going there to get a result,” said Bernier. “They have to win, so there will be (open) spaces.

“You have to take those opportunities and finish them. So far it’s gone well. We’re getting chances and putting them in the back of the net. We’re not going to force things, but when you get a chance, you have to go for it.”

A gentle snow was falling on their training facility as the Impact returned to practice on a grass pitch for the first time since their win. They’ll have five outdoor practices before heading to Toronto on Monday.

The Impact did not dwell on Altidore’s comment this week that he gave only a “love tap” to Impact defender Victor Cabrera before Toronto’s second goal, other than that it should have been called a foul. Altidore also said Cabrera should work more in the gym to help stay on his feet.

“No problem, Victor will respond on the field,” said Biello. “It’s part of the game and part of this rivalry. We move forward.”

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