MONTREAL -- The Montreal Impact returned from last week's road trip sitting in first place in the MLS Eastern Conference and with the Voyageurs Cup in hand.
An eight-day span saw the Impact win 5-3 at home against Philadelphia, tie 2-2 in Vancouver to claim the Amway Canadian Championship final series on the away goals rule, and then come from behind to beat Sporting Kansas City 2-1 for a key road victory.
"It was very demanding, physically and psychologically, because we had to go from winning the Cup and being Canadian champions and then switch to MLS, which is not easy," midfielder Patrice Bernier said Monday.
"Usually, you win a Cup and you have time to celebrate. We had maybe a few hours. Then we had to move on against a team that's very good at home and that is a rival in terms of where we want to be in the Eastern Conference."
The week ended with a day of airport misery, as their flight on Sunday was cancelled and it took 15 hours to get home.
Now, they have a two-week break to rest up and ponder what they've done. The Impact's next game is at Columbus on June 15 and their next home date is June 19 against Houston.
In only their second season in Major League Soccer, the Impact are 8-2-2, one point ahead of the second-place New York Red Bulls with four games in hand.
Their third away win was one more than they had in all of the 2012 campaign.
They also picked up a nasty new rivalry with Kansas City, which Bernier says may have something to do with their success.
The victory over last season's first-place team came despite a questionable penalty shot that gave Sporting a 1-0 lead in first-half injury time, and despite seeing both coach Marco Schallibaum and veteran defender Alessandro Nesta sent off.
The game ended with the teams shouting at each other on the field.
"A rivalry out of nothing -- kind of like the Canadiens and the Senators," said Bernier, a former junior hockey defenceman. "Great. Some of these teams maybe feel they're the team to beat and they see that we don't (recognize) that label of who they are. We're showing who we are.
"We're not just an expansion team. We're a team with a lot of quality and we want to show we're here to compete and to be one of the best, not just to fight for fifth place and the playoffs."
It should make for a lively game July 27 when Kansas City visits Saputo Stadium.
"We've made a lot of statements since the beginning of the season," added Bernier. "We've proven we deserve to be there.
"It seems like (winning in) a place like Kansas City, where not many teams win, and the way we came back, now people see we're very tough to beat. Last year we probably would have lost the game."
The break will give some injured players time to heal.
Assistant coach Mauro Biello said forward Daniele Paponi (thigh) is closest to returning, while midfielder Andrea Pisanu (thigh) is not far off. Captain Davy Arnaud is following protocol for treatment of a concussion. It is possible all three could be available to face Columbus.
It was the second time in as many trips to Kansas City that Schallibaum was ejected. He was sent off for allegedly squirting water at the Kansas City bench during a 2-0 loss on March 30.
For a second time, Biello took over and will be acting head coach again against Columbus, when both Schallibaum and Nesta will serve suspensions.
"Now every time I go to K.C. I'll be ready -- I'll wear my suit," Biello quipped.
Schallibaum got it for going onto the field to protest a penalty shot call after Nesta tugged at Claudio Bieler's shirt. The foul looked to have occurred just outside the penalty area. Bieler made no mistake in scoring his seventh of the season.
In the second half, Bieler knocked Nesta down and stepped on his hand, which went unnoticed by the officials. The former AC Milan great got up and head-butted the Kansas City forward, earning a red card.
As much as it appeared to be provoked, it wasn't the most disciplined reaction from the 37-year-old.
"It was a battle between him and Bieler the whole game," said Biello. "There was that little incident where he got stomped on his hand and he reacted a little too much and got thrown out.
"Nesta is a champion. He brings tremendous experience to this team. But sometimes emotions get the better of you. He knew right away. He had his hand up and he talked to the group right after the game. He's a guy who has been through everything."
Nesta was not available for comment.
Down 1-0 to start the second half, Sanna Nyassi tied it in the 47th minute and midfielder Collen Warner got his first MLS goal in two seasons with Montreal in the 53rd.
A corner kick set up the game winner, as Kansas City defender Peterson Joseph got caught up with a teammate and his clearing attempt landed at Warner's feet.
"Mauro put me up in the box -- I don't usually get called up for those," said Warner. "I was just kind of hanging around, looking for scraps, and one happened to fall my way."
Notes: Paulo DelPiccolo, a left-footed, mostly defensive midfielder who was taken 27th in this year's SuperDraft, is on a two-week trial. The 22-year-old had been playing in Germany for Eintracht Frankfurt, mostly on the reserve team. He's from the same Colorado Rush organization that produced Warner and defender Jeb Brovsky ... Nyassi is off to play two World Cup qualifiers for Gambia.