MONTREAL — Inaugurating the new Mauro Biello soccer field at his old high school was the only cheerful moment for the Montreal Impact coach this week.
The team he took to the MLS Eastern Conference final last season is in free fall, having lost seven of its last eight games. They will be officially eliminated from playoff contention if the New York Red Bulls beat the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.
And there have been reports he and his assistants will be fired at the end of the season, or at least shuffled into new jobs in an organization that Biello has been tied to, as a player or a coach, since it's inception in 1993.
"It's been a difficult season for sure," Biello said Wednesday. "But I'll focus on what I can control.
"People are going to say rumours. I can't control that. I have to put my team in the best environment to succeed and that's what I'm going to focus on."
He didn't want to comment on his talks with upper management, but he defended his coaching record, which includes taking over from the fired Frank Klopas in September, 2015 and leading the Impact into the playoffs, where they lost in overtime to Columbus in a conference semifinal.
He followed that by bringing the club one step farther, where they lost a thriller conference final, again in overtime, to rival Toronto FC.
"There are always discussions here, there are always meetings," he said. "For me to talk about my future is not something I want to go into and create more speculation and rumours."
The Impact made few off-season changes while other teams added big pieces, so clubs like Chicago, Columbus and expansion Atlanta moved past them. Now Montreal is tied with New England and Philadelphia for seventh in the conference with two games to play. They all sit four points behind the Red Bulls, who hold the sixth and final playoff spot.
The Impact can't say they haven't had chances. They looked to be charging into the playoffs when they won four games in a row in August, but since a 3-1 loss at home to Toronto on Aug. 27, their only win was a surprise 5-3 result in Toronto on Sept. 20. They face TFC in their next outing as well on Oct. 15 at BMO Field.
Montreal has lost four in a row since then, including a jarring loss to expansion Minnesota at home and last Saturday's 2-1 setback against lowly Colorado.
All that kept them from being mathematically eliminated is that the Red Bulls are also in a slump. New York is winless in its last nine games (0-4-5).
"They've been dropping points for a month now and we've been dropping them along with them," said goalkeeper Evan Bush.
After Vancouver, who lead the Western Conference, the Red Bulls play host to Atlanta on Oct. 15 and end the regular season at D.C. United. The Impact need to win their final two games and hope New York gets no more than one point.
"It always comes back to the same thing, you always have to believe," said Bush. "If you don't, then you're going to go into games looking lacklustre and unmotivated.
"Unfortunately, at times, it seems to look that way. For me, I'll still believe until they tell me I can't. This weekend we might get knocked out but it shouldn't change anything. We still have a game against Toronto, which is our rival, and we need to take that game seriously."
They will be without left back Daniel Lovitz, who was ejected in Colorado when Montreal was up a man, and right back Chris Duvall, who sprained an ankle early in the match and will be out four-to-six weeks.
Star midfielder Ignacio Piatti left late in the game with a bruised meniscus in a knee.
"He had an MRI and it's not serious, so we'll see how he is in the next week or so and if he'll be available for the Toronto game," said Biello.
Biello attended the opening of the field that bears his name on Tuesday at Marymount Academy, where he went to high school in the NDG district west of downtown Montreal.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press