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Avoiding red cards key as slumping Impact face high-powered Atlanta United


MONTREAL — The first priority for the Montreal Impact when they face Atlanta United on Saturday is to avoid having anyone sent off.

The Impact (2-5-0) have had two players ejected in their last three games, all losses. Eight of the 12 goals they conceded in that span came when playing a man down.

The latest was defender Victor Cabrera, who was sent packing 40 minutes into a 5-3 home defeat to Los Angeles FC last Saturday that the Impact led 3-1 at the intermission. It came two weeks after midfielder Saphir Taider saw the red card 15 minutes into a 4-0 loss at New England.

"Try to play with 11 guys for 90 minutes would be a good one," goalkeeper Evan Bush said of the Impact's goals for their visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Atlanta (5-1-1) draws the league's largest crowds at nearly 50,000 per game.

"Especially against teams like Atlanta or L.A. or New York. You have to be ready to deal with good players and, when you have 11 guys on the field, it makes it much easier."

Atlanta has a formidable attack, with 17 goals scored in seven matches, that only got scarier with 19-year-old Argentine Ezequiel Barco back in the lineup after missing the first five games with a quadriceps injury. Barco was bought from the Independiente club in January for an MLS-record US$15 million.

Barco, Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron and other Atlanta marksmen will be facing a makeshift Montreal central defence that will be missing Cabrera to an automatic one-game suspension and Rod Fanni, Zakaria Diallo and Kyle Fisher to injuries.

Coach Remi Garde will need to be creative with his lineup and formation after playing with a five-man back line, including three in the middle, in recent games. At least newcomer Rudy Camacho and Jukka Raitala appear fit to play.

Bush draws inspiration from their main rival Toronto FC, who took the CONCACAF Champions League final to a shootout in Mexico on Wednesday night despite major injuries on defence.

"I watched Toronto play probably the most important game in their history with (midfielder Michael) Bradley and (Gregory) Van der Wiel at centreback, so there's really no excuses for whoever we put in whatever position," said Bush. "It's the mentality.

"Toronto showed they had that mentality and they performed well. There's no reason to think we can't do the same going to Atlanta."

Even with 11 on the field, the Impact defence has struggled. Garde said it's hard for a back line to jell when its personnel change from week to week. They have also given their opponents five chances from the penalty spot.

Bush made a team-record 14 saves against LAFC, including one on a penalty.

"Teams put us on our heels a bit too much," he said. "We need to be better keeping the ball and forcing teams back into their own end.

"Two PKs at home in the last game is not what you want to see. Playing with 11 guys helps that."

The Impact attack has managed only nine goals so far, but at least star midfielder Ignacio Piatti looks in top form after posting his first MLS hat-trick last week. The offence is also a work in progress with striker Matteo Mancosu injured and newcomers Jeisson Vargas and Alejandro Silva adjusting to a new team.

The stage looks set for a lopsided Atlanta win, but Bush sees it as a chance for Montreal to seize the moment.

"It's exciting to play in a place like Atlanta," he said. "So many fans, good team.

"Sometimes when you go to play in Columbus in the middle of the summer or New England when there's 4,000 people in the stands it's hard to motivate yourself the same way as it is to accept the challenge of going to Atlanta or Toronto, Seattle or Portland or whatever. I embrace the challenge.

"I try to get a lot of the new guys to embrace that challenge too. To go in without having any fear of the game or the surroundings or conditions. The moments in your career that you're going to remember are games like this in stadiums like this."

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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