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CF Montreal looks to advance to MLS playoffs with road win over Crew on Decision Day

George Campbell CF Montreal George Campbell (Right) - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — After the departure of several key players and coach of the year nominee Wilfried Nancy, and a seemingly never-ending injury crisis, the odds were against CF Montreal entering Decision Day occupying a playoff spot.

However, that is exactly where the Major League Soccer club finds itself heading into its regular-season finale Saturday on the road against Nancy’s current team, the Columbus Crew.

Currently sitting in eighth place with 41 points, Montreal (12-16-5) can secure home field advantage in the play-in with a win against Columbus (15-9-9). Should Montreal draw or lose, it would need other results to fall favourably.

CF Montreal would need at least two of the New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire or Charlotte SC to drop points in their final games should it fail to take care of business in Columbus.

“I definitely won’t be looking at the scores at halftime. We just have to focus on our game and not worry about what’s going on in other games. If we feel like we have a chance to go for the win, then we will,” said head coach Hernan Losada. “If we have to settle for a draw or we lose and need to rely on the other teams, then that’s the reality of it.”

Winning on the road been the single biggest problem area this year for CF Montreal. Despite holding one of the league’s best defensive records at home, Montreal is the second-worst road team, ahead of only last-placed Toronto FC. The club lost its last three road games by a combined score of 9-1, and this came with Montreal fighting for a playoff spot.

“I think not a lot of people think we can (make the playoffs). We talked about it as a group and it gives us motivation, I feel like people count us out plenty of times this year and past years, it’s always been like that,” said veteran defender Joel Waterman. “It’s a great chance for us to go into Columbus, get three points, and be in control of our own fate.”

Columbus came out in top 4-2 the last time these teams met on Sept. 2 at Stade Saputo. The Crew brought their usual high-octane attack and exposed a lack of finishing that has cost Montreal dearly all season.

However, with the return of every injured player save defender Robert Thorkelsson, Losada lined up his players in a 3-4-3 formation for the first time in months in its last game, a 4-1 win over visiting Portland. This allowed Montreal to exploit the flanks and find spaces it struggled to occupy in the past.

“(Columbus) love to keep the ball and take risks by playing out from the back. If we can find a way to press at the right time and not get caught out, that’ll give us the best chance,” said captain Samuel Piette. “We even scored that way last time we played and striking the right balance will be key.

“We have to find the right time to hit back and make our chances count, there’s nothing more we can do than bring that kind of intensity.”

The return of striker Romell Quioto has also brought an attacking spark back to the front line. Since his return from a four-month absence due to a hamstring injury, Quioto has registered just one assist, but he brings a veteran presence that has been so dearly missed at the club and could be a decisive factor on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2023.