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Hernandez scores three, Crew cruise past CF Montreal

Cucho Hernandez Columbus Crew Cucho Hernandez - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Cucho Hernandez scored three times, including once on a second-half penalty kick, and the visiting Columbus Crew cruised to a 4-2 Major League Soccer victory over CF Montreal on Saturday night.

After falling behind 3-0, CF Montreal had a strong second-half push but it wasn't enough to catch the Crew at Stade Saputo.

“They didn’t do much apart from two, three, four actions in the first half, but with the quality they have they can hurt us and that’s what they did,” said Montreal captain Samuel Piette.

“I think we lacked focus and yes, we lost a couple of duels that hurt us, but how I want my team to be is aggressive and on the front foot.”

The Crew also benefited from an own goal by Gabriele Corbo, while Mahala Opoku and Jules-Anthony Vilsaint scored for Montreal (11-14-2).

Montreal’s impressive home record did not appear to intimidate the visiting Crew who looked to keep the ball, get numbers forward, and press high up the pitch as often as possible.

The commitment to get forward would prove lethal in the 14th minute when Corbo attempted to block a cross but sent it into his own net instead. This appeared to open the flood gates as the Crew would add another just 10 minutes later.

After receiving the ball out wide in an advanced position, Diego Rossi picked out Hernandez who made a late run to the second post and sent a powerful header past Jonathan Sirois.

“This may have been our worst defensive game of the season, as a collective,” said head coach Hernan Losada. “They converted on their chances and made us pay for our mistakes, it’s that simple.”

As teams traded golden scoring chances throughout the rest of the half, Columbus would add a third right before the break in the same way they’ve hurt Montreal all game. With possession out wide, this time it would be Yaw Yeboah who found Hernandez with a low cross.

Montreal began the second half with seemingly renewed energy, only needing five minutes to get one back. Substitute Jules-Anthony Vilsaint picked the pocket of former Montreal defender Rudy Camacho and laid it off for Opoku who scored, reigniting the home crowd.

“The energy was very high for the whole game, but it’s a lot harder to bring that energy when you’re down 3-0 compared to the start of the game,” said Losada. “That’s why I’m very proud of the way the team came out in the second half.

"We have to play for our pride, our families and friends and we have to try and win the second half, which is something we did.”

Just after the hour mark, Hernandez went down in the penalty area after a tackle from George Campbell. While the official had not given a penalty, Video Assistant Referee recommended a review that led to the call being deemed a spot kick which Hernandez dispatched, sealing his hat trick.

Montreal’s reply was equally swift as Matko Miljevic’s cross found Vilsaint, who scored his first goal with his hometown club, bringing Montreal back to a two-goal deficit.

“I just waited at the second post because I knew he was going to cross the ball and luckily I was in the right spot at the right time,” said Vilsaint. “It felt really nice to get that goal and it felt like we had a comeback brewing especially with the crowd getting into it.”

Just as Montreal began building momentum and finding chances, the Crew’s composure on the ball took the wind out of the home side’s sails and secured the three points on the road.

This game also saw the first return of former head coach Wilfried Nancy and central defender Rudy Camacho since their departure from Montreal. They were integral parts of the club for years including their record-breaking 2022 season.

“It’s always nice to see them even if it was weird seeing such familiar faces as opponents,” said Piette. “Rudy and I arrived at the club around the same time and Wilfried has been a coach of mine since I was 14 years old with the provincial team, so it was weird seeing him on the other team’s bench and not your own.”

MLS will now have a two-week break as players report to their national teams. Both teams will be in action again on Sept. 16 as Montreal hosts the Chicago Fire and Columbus travels to Florida to face Orlando City SC.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2023.