It was broad smiles all around from head coach Frank Klopas and Sporting Director Nick de Santis as the Impact put on their brave and cheery faces at training yesterday. Hard to imagine this is a club who are firmly entrenched at the bottom of the Eastern Conference as results this season mirror the tailspin the Impact suffered throughout the later stages of the 2013 season. Last Saturdays Kansas City shambles offered very few shreds of comfort or optimism for a club who have only claimed a solitary victory over the course of their last 15 regular season matches. Coincidentally, that win - secured in the final home match of the 2013 season - came against the Philadelphia Union who will be the opponent for the Impacts Saputo Stadium home opener Saturday afternoon. Going into this season there was no expectation the Impact would start in the same forthright manner they did in 2013, where they had already accumulated 16 points and by a distance were the form team of the Eastern Conference through seven games. By the same token nobody in the organization would have thought the club would still be in search of its first win on the back of the worst start of the season in club history. By a quirk of fate Klopas old flame, the Chicago Fire, are the only other winless team in the conference. Any thought Klopas would suffer a similar fate of so many Impact coaches before were completely dismissed out of hand by De Santis yesterday, as he offered full and unequivocal support for his besieged head coach. De Santis could not have appeared more genuine as he addressed the media first in French and then reinforced the same message when switching to English as he expressed complete confidence in his coaching staff. “Its frustrating, its disappointing but we do need to stay patient,” De Santis said of the Imapcts start. The opening goal conceded against the reigning MLS Cup champions was a Callum Mallace attempt at a headed clearance that found nothing but the roof of the Impact net. It typifies the run of ill fortune the Impact has experienced so far this season. One that by this stage drains, and erodes confidence levels allowing for the doubts to set in. This was evident during the second half in Kansas where as a team they completely lacked conviction and confidence. After Marco Di Vaio was forced off injured in minute 55, many players became mere shadows of themselves as they conceded three soft goals. After the match Impact captain Patrice Bernier could offer little explanation of why the team had performed so poorly though the second half. If the Impact is to salvage their season this has to represent rock bottom. Playing at Saputo Stadium for a first time this season offers up the perfect tonic. Training yesterday took place at the clubs training pitch adjacent to the stadium and was conducted under glorious blue skies, which is in stark contrast to training and playing at a dreary appearing Olympic Stadium. A spring was in everyones steps, a certain buoyancy in the air. Di Vaio - who will be the first to admit that his form this season is far from where he would like it to be, or where the club needs it to be - seems likely to overcome the slight hamstring strain and should be available Saturday. Someone who likely again wont feature is Argentine DP Hernan Bernardello. Yesterday De Santis spoke of the midfielders fellow countryman Igniacio Piatti, who currently plays for San Lorenzo. The Impacts Sporting Director admitted the club was very much hoping to bring him in during the upcoming transfer window. Dont expect summer shopping to be limited to merely adding a third and final DP. This is a club who throughout its 20-plus-year history doesnt shy away from making the investments where needed. Bolstering the lineup and adding greater depth will certainly enhance the Impacts chances in the second half of the season. For now, though, its about getting the optimum performances from all the players at their disposal. This is something Klopas admitted earlier in the week was keeping him awake at night. In the lead up to Saturdays game much has been made in both Montreal and Philadelphia about Andrew Wengers return to Saputo Stadium. Wenger even got in on the act himself in the week when he spoke of his time in Montreal and learning much from Marco. Referring to Di Vaio, this was clearly a backhanded slap in the direction of Marco Schallibaum. As the team were putting in some of their final preparations for Saturday afternoons encounter, the finishing touches were been applied to Saputo Stadium. The pitch looks in perfect shape. The last time the club took to that pitch was last Oct. 19 in what was a must-win game for the Impact - who had gone into the game on the back of a six-game winless skid. Philly took the early lead before Di Vaio notched his 20th goal of the season and Karl Ouimette scored the late winner. The opponent will be the same Saturday afternoon, and the club fully need a similar result. Or as De Santis put it yesterday: “We are a win away from relieving the pressure on everyone.” You can reach and follow Noel Butler at: Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
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. -- Sonny Grays fastball wasnt as sharp as it usually is, and the Oakland Athletics young pitcher even had a quirky replay go against him.PHILADELPHIA - James Harden had 35 points and nine rebounds and Dwight Howard added 11 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Houston Rockets past the Philadelphia 76ers 104-93 on Monday night.Trevor Ariza hit six 3-pointers and scored 24 points to help Houston improve to 4-0. The Rockets made 16 of 34 3-pointers and dominated the Sixers 47-31 on the boards.Harden made his first 17 free throws and the Rockets had assists on 27 of 32 field goals.Tony Wroten led the winless Sixers (0-4) with 20 points and K.J. McDaniels had 14.Ariza picked up in Philadelphia where he left off in March when he scored a career-high 40 points and spoiled Allen Iversons jersey retirement celebration night. Playing for Washington, Ariza made all six 3-point attempts in the first quarter for 24 points and finished 14 of 23 from the floor overall.He was nearly as potent for Houston in the first. Without a hand in his face, Ariza buried open shots from the corner and the Sixers made no attempt to stick a defender on him. He made all four 3s, scored 14 points and helped the Rockets race to a 13-point lead. Ariza was 5 of 6 on 3s for 19 points by halftime and helped push the Rockets lead to 55-54.The Sixers have put wins on the farthest back burner this season and are focused more on player development — and those high draft picks dangled as bait for all the losing.Noel is one of the projected cornerstones and he dazzled at times in the first half. Noel had four steals, stripping Howard on one possession, and five assists in the first half. But Noel, the 6-foot-11 rookie centre, failed to grab a rebound until there was 2:40 left in thee game.ddddddddddddNoel ended the third with a leaping, one-handed stuff of James Hardens two-handed dunk attempt that brought the crowd to its feet.He picked off a bounce pass near Houstons 3-point line and soared home with a dunk early in the fourth to cut it to 80-76. The fun wouldnt last long. Noel, who made a brief pit stop in the locker room, was on the bench for a chunk of the fourth and trainers worked on his right hand and wrist.The Sixers havent been a total loss this season, playing competitive ball for the first three quarters in four games. Theyve hit a wall in the fourth when opponents pick up their pace of play and take over. This Sixers team simply is not talented or deep enough to pull off a win against a contender like Houston.Hardens third 3-pointer built a cushion late in the fourth and Isaiah Canaan followed with his own from the corner for a 93-84 lead. Canaans next 3 gave the Rockets a 10-point lead and they put away the pesky Sixers for good.TIP INS:Rockets: Houston played without guard Patrick Beverley (hamstring). ... Howard was a game time decision with a knee injury. ... The Rockets led by as many as 16.76ers: The Sixers will kick off their Stars and Stripes military program with a Tuesday practice for service members at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. ... Sixers centre Henry Sims did not start for the first time this season as he battled an illness. ... The Sixers had one lead all game. ... McDaniels was 3 of 4 on 3s and the Sixers went 11 for 22.UP NEXTRockets: Houston plays Tuesday at Miami.76ers: Philadelphia is home Wednesday against the Orlando Magic. ' ' '