MONTREAL — Defender Daniel Lovitz thinks Major League Soccer looks down on the Montreal Impact — and he wants to use that as motivation this season.
In the aftermath of a travel fiasco earlier this week, Lovitz said he believes the league treats other teams — especially those in bigger markets — more favourably than Montreal.
The 27-year-old made his views known ahead of Sunday afternoon's clash between the Impact (4-3-2) and the Chicago Fire (2-3-3) at Saputo Stadium.
"I know guys that play on other teams, and I know things happen a little differently, and maybe a little more smoothly," said Lovitz after training Friday. "That's the way the league works. We're trying to grow, we're trying to expand.
"They're going to play favourites every now and then, and I don't think we're one of them. But that shouldn't do anything other than embolden us.”
The Impact were scheduled to fly to New England Tuesday evening for a mid-week encounter with the Revolution. But their commercial flight was cancelled after a five-hour delay at the airport and the players were sent back home.
Montreal was then forced to use a charter flight Wednesday morning — one of four allotted charter flights per season. That flight was delayed three hours. The players finally arrived at their hotel in New England just four hours before kickoff.
The Impact asked the league to postpone the match but MLS refused. Montreal went on to beat the Revolution 3-0.
"It was one of those nightmare situations, logistically, where players have no say in that," said Lovitz, now in his sixth year in MLS. "You can't control any of that.
"It's no real question or secret that this is an isolated market. It's certainly perceived that way by MLS in how we've been treated historically. If that's a little more heightened now, so be it, great. I think we can use that.
"I know people who have season tickets who say Montreal is not a huge draw for them. We should take that and play with a chip on our shoulder."
The Impact are off to one of the best starts in franchise history. Montreal is second in the Eastern Conference after nine games, eight of which were played on the road. The only home game was a 1-0 victory against the Columbus Crew on April 13.
Montreal has also managed to climb the standings without star Ignacio Piatti (knee injury), who missed the last six games. Piatti began training with his teammates this week, but will not play Sunday. The Argentine still leads the Impact with three goals — tied with Saphir Taider — despite playing only the first three games of the season.
"I've never seen such frustration from an injured player," said coach Remi Garde of Piatti. "Soccer is such a part of his life, his being, that he's extremely unhappy not to be playing. But he sees now that he's getting better, and he's feeling better because of it."
Also on the mend are midfielders Harry Novillo (back), Taider (muscle tension) and Shamit Shome (ankle sprain).
Garde will need to decide who gets the start between forwards Maximiliano Urruti and homegrown player Anthony Jackson-Hamel.
Urruti has started eight games for the Impact, but has yet to score this season. Jackson-Hamel, who's trying to lock down a regular starting role, scored twice in 19 minutes Wednesday after coming off the bench in the 71st minute.
"It was a lot of fun, it felt good," said Jackson-Hamel of Montreal’s 3-0 victory. "Everybody was so happy after that game. The team was so happy I scored. I'm working harder, I'm performing better.”
The Fire are coming off a 1-0 defeat against New York City FC, ending a four-game unbeaten streak. It was the first time Chicago was shut out this season.
Forwards C.J. Sapong and Nemanja Nikolic lead the offence for Chicago. Sapong has four goals while Nikolic has three.
The Fire are playing the second game of a three-game road swing. Chicago is 0-2-1 on the road this season and has not won on the road in 15 matches (0-11-4), dating back to May 26, 2018.
CHICAGO FIRE (2-3-3) AT MONTREAL IMPACT (4-3-2)
Sunday, Saputo Stadium
EYEING FIRST: The Impact are three points behind D.C. United for top spot in the Eastern Conference.
HOME SWEET HOME: Montreal has been tough to beat at Saputo Stadium of late. Coach Remi Garde's men are unbeaten at home in their past seven MLS matches and they're 10-1-2 at home in the last 13.
NO REST FOR THE WEARY: Sunday's clash against the Fire will be Montreal's third game in nine days.
SECOND-HALF STRIKES: Of the 12 goals scored by the Fire this season, 10 have come after halftime.
Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press