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CF Montreal looking forward to home crowd as search for first points continues

Mason Toye CF Montreal Mason Toye - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — After an extended time away that included two weeks of training camp in Florida and three Major League Soccer road games, CF Montreal will finally be playing in front of a home crowd this weekend.

A celebratory mood will be mixed with a sense of nervous anticipation Saturday at Olympic Stadium as the MLS club is seeks its first points, and its first goal, of the 2023 season in its home opener against the Philadelphia Union.

Montreal has disappointed to start this MLS campaign after a successful 2022 season that saw the team muster a franchise-high 65 points.

"You need to approach spells like this with composure. The most important thing is to continue to work hard and keep your focus and the success will come," said striker and talisman Romell Quioto, who led Montreal with 15 goals in MLS play last season. "I think it’s better that this is happening early in the year than towards the end because we’re going to learn from these struggles and be better off."

The game against Philadelphia (2-1-0) could present a good opportunity for Montreal to find the back of the net. Despite a strong start to the season, the Union have not dominated games as they did last season.

Their defence — which was peerless last season — has not reached the same level yet in 2023, with just one clean sheet and opponents getting significant scoring chances in all three of their games.

Those struggles, along with goalkeeper Andre Blake’s groin injury — forcing him out of Saturday’s contest — means Philadelphia’s defence may be at its most vulnerable.

"Playing at home gives a big boost of confidence and I think that’s something that can’t be ignored," said Montreal head coach Hernan Losada. "Hitting the panic button is a bit premature in a situation like this.

"We’re a very young team with a new coach, and things will get better with patience, hard work, and time."

Defence aside, Philadelphia’s attack looks every bit as dangerous as last season — posing many potential issues for Montreal's banged up squad and depleted defensive corps.

Goaltender James Pantemis, defenders George Campbell and Kamal Miller and midfielder Jojea Kwizera have all been ruled out of the match, and defenders Robert Thorkelsson and Aaron Herrera, defensive midfielder and captain Samuel Piette and winger Lassi Lappalainen are listed game-time decisions.

That means that Losada will need to get creative in order to ensure that the back line and defensive midfield is properly manned to carry out his game plan. Montreal has fielded a different back-five and 'keeper combination in all three of its games, making it difficult to build chemistry and familiarity.

Midfielder Mathieu Choinière, who played at wingback, all over the midfield and even in attack throughout the past year, will be again counted on for his versatility.

"It’s pretty much confirmed that I’m kind of like the Swiss Army Knife of the team and that’s something I’m starting to really embrace," said Choinière. "Whenever I have to play somewhere new so that the gameplan works, I don’t mind at all."

Besides the injuries to Campbell (ankle) and Pantemis (shoulder), all others this season have been non-contact or muscular lower body injuries.

The game will feature the return of Joaquin Torres to Montreal. The Argentine winger spent two years with the club, scoring seven goals with another seven assists before he was traded to Philadelphia in the off-season in exchange for as much as US$800,000 in general allocation money.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2023.