MONTREAL — Reinforcements could not have come at a better time for the Montreal Impact.
A depleted Impact (9-8-3) side saw three key players return from international duty this week ahead of Saturday's clash with Minnesota United FC (8-7-3) at Saputo Stadium.
Samuel Piette and Zachary Brault-Guillard of Canada and Panama's Omar Browne rejoined their teammates after three weeks at the Gold Cup.
Only Daniel Lovitz (U.S.) and Micheal Azira (Uganda) remain with their national teams.
"We really feel we have strength in numbers," said Impact scoring leader Saphir Taider. "These last few weeks, we had so few guys here. We could barely train properly. We were 12 or 13 players on the roster.
"It's good to have players coming back. We're getting closer to a full team. The guys were enjoying themselves at training (this week). I'm sure the coach must be happy too."
The return of Piette, Brault-Guillard and Browne coincides with a rapidly growing list of injuries for Montreal.
Striker Maximiliano Urruti is questionable for Saturday’s game after missing the team's last match with a knee injury — a 2-1 loss on the road to Atlanta United. The Argentine trained separately from his teammates this week, alongside countryman Ignacio Piatti (knee).
Midfielder Orji Okwonwko’s status is also up in the air after leaving training this week clutching his thigh. Okwonwko recently missed three games with a leg injury.
With so many players absent through international duty and injuries, coach Remi Garde was forced get creative versus Atlanta United last week. The Impact coach used players out of their natural positions in a very attacking 3-4-3 formation.
"Of course it's different, but I've played out of position in the past," said defender Jukka Raitala, who was moved to the left wing in Atlanta. "I can handle many positions pretty well. It's not such a big deal for me where coach wants to use me.
"The guys who are injured are working hard and it looks like soon, we will have everybody on the field. It's good to get the guys back. We still have Lovitz missing, hopefully he can win on Sunday (in the Gold Cup final versus Mexico) and come back as a champion."
Minnesota has won back-to-back games in Major League Soccer and has four victories in a row in all competitions, after a three-game slide.
They followed up a franchise-best 7-1 win against Cincinnati last week by defeating the San Jose Earthquakes 3-1 at home on Wednesday. Those 10 goals in two games have boosted Minnesota's season tally to 33, making them the third-most prolific offence in MLS. In comparison, Montreal has 10 goals in the last eight games.
The Loons rely heavily on their designated players, who lead the way on offence. Darwin Quintero has six goals and five assists this season while Angelo Rodriguez has already scored five times.
But Minnesota has not had the same success on the road recently. The third-year MLS club is goalless in its last three matches away from Allianz Field — the longest road drought in team history.
Minnesota is also looking to avoid its fifth consecutive road loss. They have not won away from home since April 6 against the New York Red Bulls.
"If we're going to take advantage, we need to do it the right way," said Taider of Minnesota's road form and quick turnaround. "We have to concentrate on ourselves and dictate the pace from the opening whistle. We need to take control right away and prevent them from getting going."
MINNESOTA UNITED FC (8-7-3) AT MONTREAL IMPACT (9-8-3)
Saturday, Saputo Stadium
MIGHTY MINNESOTA: The Loons have yet to lose a game against the Impact since joining MLS. They have won both their previous meetings with Montreal.
TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE: Impact fans will remember Darwin Quintero from his days with Mexican side Santos Laguna. In the 2009 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, Quintero scored twice in stoppage time to eliminate Montreal.
BALANCING ACT: The Impact play three games in the next eight days, including their first Canadian Championship match of the year. Montreal faces York9 in the first game of a two-leg quarter-final next Wednesday in Toronto.
WALL OF FAME: Former Impact goalkeeper and Canadian international Greg Sutton was inducted into Montreal's Wall of Fame on Thursday. The Wall honours notable retired Impact players.