Hickey: Impact fails to play full 90 in Toronto, takes step back in playoff drive

In Wilmer Cabrera's debut, the Impact once again couldn't hold on to a lead Saturday night against Toronto FC, who took their spot in the MLS Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush (1) makes a save against Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17) during the second half at Rogers Centre. Kevin Sousa / USA TODAY Sports

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The Impact took another step backward in its playoff drive Saturday night with a 2-1 road loss to Toronto FC. The defeat dropped the Impact out of a playoff spot in the MLS Eastern Conference.

The loss came three days after the floundering club hired Wilmer Cabrera to replace head coach Rémi Garde. But it was unrealistic to think the change would produce any immediate results. With only two days of training and a roster riddled with injuries to key players, the best that could be expected from the change was an emotional lift.

That wasn’t enough against Toronto FC, which has had its own problems this season. Toronto had everything going for it in Saturday’s Canadian Derby, playing at home with a healthy lineup of superior players.

Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush (1) makes a save against Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17) during the second half at Rogers Centre. Kevin Sousa / USA TODAY Sports

There was some joy for Montreal in the 49th minute when Bojan Krkic opened the scoring with his first MLS goal. He offered a glimpse of why he was regarded as a top prospect as a teenager with Barcelona when he created some space for himself at the top of the box and beat Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg to the near post from 25 yards out. Montreal has scored first in the last three games, but has picked up only one point in those games.

Toronto FC pulled even in the 63rd minute. Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush dove to punch away a dangerous ball from Alejandro Pozuelo, who came off the bench at the half. The rebound came back to Marky Delgado, whose shot from outside the box found its way through defender Bacary Sagna’s legs and in.

Justin Morrow spoiled Cabrera’s debut as coach of the Impact when he scored in the 81st minute to snap a 1-1 tie. Bush managed to get a piece of Morrow’s shot, but it caromed over the diving goalkeeper and went in before a defender could clear the ball. The shot came after a nice flick forward by Jozy Altidore on a pass by Michael Bradley, who was huge patrolling centre midfield all game and recorded seven official chances created.

While the score was close, Toronto FC had a definite edge in play, outshooting the Impact 19-4 with a 5-1 edge in shots on target.

Cabrera’s post-game comments had a familiar ring.

“We’re disappointed with the result, because we didn’t come here to lose,” said Cabrera. “We had a plan and it was working, but we have to play the game for 90 minutes. I think we did a lot of positive things throughout the game that we need to use more down this final stretch.”

“We’re disappointed, because we’re losing games on small details,” said Krkic. “Last week, it was about set pieces. I think we need to remain strong because we’re giving everything and we’re playing good games, but we need to stay solid until the end and play 90 minutes.”

The win moved Toronto FC into the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 37 points, three more than Montreal. Toronto FC also holds a game in hand.

The Impact fell four points behind sixth-place New England, who edged the Chicago Fire 2-1 on Saturday. The Impact suffered its seventh consecutive loss on the road and is 1-7-1 in its last nine games. One bit of good news is Montreal will play five of its six remaining MLS games at Saputo Stadium.

But the inability to win on the road is only one of the Impact’s problems. The team is still missing key personnel, including designated player Ignacio Piatti, midfielder Samuel Piette and defenders Victor Cabrera and Rudy Camacho.

Homegrown striker Anthony Jackson-Hamel joined the list of wounded Saturday. It’s safe to say Jackson-Hamel wasn’t one of Garde’s favourites, but the coaching change gave him a new opportunity. It didn’t last long: minutes after he replaced Ballou Tabla in the second half Saturday, he suffered what appeared to be a left knee injury and was carried off the field on a stretcher.

The Impact will get some time to heal and Cabrera will get a chance to do some coaching when the team enjoys a two-week break at the beginning of September. But first, the Impact plays two must-win home games this week. The Vancouver Whitecaps are at Saputo Stadium Wednesday (8 p.m.,TSN, TVA Sports, TSN-690 Radio) and D.C. United is in town Saturday.