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Impact facing pivotal match as team looks to make MLS playoffs

Ten teams make playoffs in Eastern Conference and Impact is ninth heading into Tuesday night's game against Nashville SC at Red Bull Arena.

Oct 24, 2020; New York, New York, USA; Montreal Impact goalkeeper James Pantemis (41) makes a save against the New York City during the first half of the match between the New York City and the Montreal Impact at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

When the final chapter’s written this season on the Impact — whether it makes the playoffs or not — the team’s porous defence will be mentioned, in abundance.

And, while Rudy Camacho’s mistakes have been frequent and conspicuous, it can sometimes be too easy pointing the finger at one player.

“There have been times where I’ve made mistakes and others have. That’s the life of a defender,” English teenager Luis Binks said during a video conference call Monday. “You make a mistake, it almost (always) ends up in a goal. You see the mistakes we make … but there’s mistakes that come before that. I could have prevented the cross. Someone else could have kept the ball. Although you see the final mistake, there’s a lot more leading up to it. It’s hard.

“But it’s always goals we can prevent. It’s frustrating. Hopefully as time goes on we’ll develop more togetherness … and these mistakes won’t keep happening. They can’t keep happening.”

Both Finnish defender Jukka Raitala and ‘keeper Clément Diop have returned to the group, served the requisite quarantine period and could dress against Nashville. Raitala was with his national team, participating in its UEFA Nations League group games, while Diop returned to France for personal reasons. Kirkland native James Pantemis has started the last three games in place of Diop.

“Where we are is because we deserve to be where we are,” manager Thierry Henry said. “The teams behind us are where they are because of that also. (Five) teams are within five points. Basically the run is the same for everybody, almost. We’re all trying to adjust and follow the path of the teams at the top. All of us. Not only us.

“You concentrate on the next game. You can’t think it’s done or not done until the ref blows the whistle. You play to win games. It’s going to be a must-win against Nashville. The aim is to make the playoffs. Nine points are in play.”

Nashville is in its inaugural Major League Soccer season, although the city was previously home to a USL franchise. The club made headlines last July when it was forced to withdraw from the MLS is Back tournament, held just outside Orlando, Fla., when nine players tested positive for COVID-19. Five were diagnosed upon the team’s arrival in Florida, while four additional cases were subsequently confirmed.

So, while every side has been forced to play a condensed schedule with little recovery time, Nashville also was required to make up those tournament matches. With 19 goals, the team has struggled offensively. But it also doesn’t concede many, having allowed 18.

“Nashville is good at what they do — aggressive and difficult to break down,” Henry said. “They have guys that are physical, quick and aggressive. I have a lot of respect because it’s a new franchise. They had to deal with a lot of stuff during the MLS is Back and they’re more than surviving.”

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Time isn’t something the Impact has on its side. Only three regular-season games remain, with Nashville SC up next Tuesday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. (7 p.m., TSN 1, 3, 4, 5, TVA Sports, TSN Radio-690).

It’s a pivotal match for both sides. Nashville (6-6-7, 25 points) sits eighth in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the ninth-place Impact (7-11-2). Ten teams make the playoffs, although Montreal has only two victories and a draw in its last 10 games while allowing a conference-high 39 goals. The Impact has gone 12 matches without producing a clean sheet.

“Now it’s about getting results,” Binks said. “We all know what’s required of us. We’re not keeping enough clean sheets. We’re giving our goalkeeper too much to do.”

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