MONTREAL — With only six games remaining this season, Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush feels like he already is in the playoffs.
Starting Saturday on the road against the Philadelphia Union, the Impact play games solely against Eastern Conference teams as they look to clinch a post-season berth for the fourth time in seven years in Major League Soccer.
Montreal (11-14-3) is sixth in the Eastern Conference standings, four points behind Philly (12-11-4) and two points up on D.C. United (9-11-7). Six teams make the playoffs in each conference.
"We're basically in the playoffs right now," Bush said. "It's obviously not single elimination, but every team that we're playing moving forward is a team that's right around us. So we can directly impact our situation with the games that we have in front of us and that's an exciting feeling."
There are four teams fighting for two playoff spots in the East. New England is in eighth place with 33 points, D.C. United is seventh with 34, Montreal is sixth with 36, and Philadelphia is fifth with 40.
The Impact play all three of those teams before the end of the season. New England, D.C. and Philadelphia all have a game in hand.
"Six games left," said midfielder Ignacio Piatti, Montreal's leading scorer this season. "We have to focus on our game, starting with Saturday. It's like six finals. We need to take points in Philadelphia. We're just thinking about the playoffs. Six games where we have to be our best. This is what it all comes down to. And we're ready for it.”
Fighting for their playoff lives in the season's final games is nothing new for Montreal.
In 2013, the Impact snuck into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth — equal on points but a better goal differential than the Chicago Fire.
In 2015, Montreal qualified thanks to a three-game winning streak to end the season.
The following year, a similar three-game unbeaten run led the Impact to post-season play by a three-point margin.
Bush, the longest-tenured Impact player, was an integral part of those three runs. The 32-year-old sees an advantage to not clinching too early.
"Often times in this league, the teams that have to battle to get into the playoffs, going down to the wire, are the ones that do really well," he said. "When we've done well in the playoffs in the past, it's because we were really locked in and focused the last two months of the regular season just to get into the playoffs and we were able to carry that momentum."
The first hurdle for Montreal are the high-flying Union, who are unbeaten in their last five matches in MLS (4-0-1). Only a stoppage-time equalizer by Orlando City two weeks ago put an end to Philly’s four-game winning streak.
The Union's defence at home has been exemplary lately. Philadelphia has recorded five clean sheets in its last six home matches in all competitions.
On the attack, Jim Curtin's men are extremely dangerous down the right flank through C.J. Sapong and Cory Burke. The pair has combined for 12 goals this season.
In the first meeting between Montreal and Philadelphia this season, Jamaican international Burke scored in a 2-0 victory for the Union.
"They're a team that's extremely consistent right now," said Impact coach Remi Garde. "They have speed up front. They have Burke, who’s been a revelation for them this season. And we've been a victim of his already. He's a real good player playing with a lot of confidence, even with the national team. They have a really good team."
MONTREAL IMPACT (11-14-3) AT PHILADELPHIA UNION (12-11-4)
Saturday, Talen Energy Stadium
ROAD WOES: It's been the story of Montreal’s season. Remi Garde's team has only two wins away from Saputo Stadium this season (2-10-2).
INTERNATIONAL BREAK. Both the Impact and Union have not played since Sept. 1 — a welcome break for a Union side dealing with injuries to Borek Dockal, Anthony Fontana and Ilsinho.
PLENTY OF CONFIDENCE: The Impact are coming off a 3-0 victory against the New York Red Bulls, the best team in MLS this season.
NO RESPECT: Earlier this week, a group of analysts at MLSSoccer.com unanimously agreed the Impact would fail to make the playoffs. Bush said Montreal never "gets the respect that we deserve. We’ll do our talking on the field."