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Martinez leads CF Montreal to win over FC Cincinnati in long-awaited home opener

FC Cincinnati's Luca Orellano, and CF Montreal's Ruan FC Cincinnati's Luca Orellano, and CF Montreal's Ruan - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Laurent Courtois means it when he says having Josef Martinez on his bench is a luxury.

“Josef, for me, is a Lamborghini,” the first-year CF Montreal head coach said.

A marquee signing last off-season, Martinez was his team’s engine on Saturday night. The 30-year-old powered Montreal with a goal and an assist as a substitute, leading a 2-1 win over FC Cincinnati in the club’s long-awaited Major League Soccer home opener.

The former MLS MVP came on in the 26th minute for injured striker Matias Coccaro before opening the scoring late in the first half. He then set up Ariel Lassiter for the winning goal as Montreal (3-3-1) snapped a three-game losing streak.

One of the league's most prolific scorers with more than 100 goals, Martinez’s production has dropped since a knee injury in 2020. But on Saturday night the Venezuelan striker proved he can still make an impact.

“He's a different class of player and I'm really fortunate to have the luxury to have him,” Courtois said. “He sees passing actions that nobody sees … he has a science of getting unmarked and finding space.”

Montreal was coming off a 5-0 loss to Seattle Sounders FC to wrap up a season-opening six-game road trip.

Courtois, coaching his first match in front of the home fans as more than 19,000 braved the rainy, 4 C weather at Stade Saputo, said the team’s play on Saturday demonstrated what he’s trying to build.

“The three points, for the fans, for the guys, it’s good for morale, but I’m really proud of the way we played,” Courtois said. “Really happy with three points, really, really even more happy with the performance.”

Yuya Kubo scored for Cincinnati (3-2-3), which lost its second game in a row and its first on the road this season.

Alec Kann started in goal as Cincinnati was missing starting goalkeeper Roman Celentano for a second straight game due to an ankle injury.

Coccaro — the team’s leading goal scorer with three this season — exited after drawing a tackle from Luca Orellano earlier in the match, appearing to injure his right leg. Orellano received a yellow card on the play.

Courtois said Coccaro “twisted a little” and that the team would know more about his injury after some additional testing.

“He was a bit devastated because he’s worried,” Courtois said. “We’ll see how severe it is.”

"It's hard for us to see Matias leave like that. We hope everything gets better for him,” added midfielder Mathieu Choiniere.

“Then we have the luxury to have Josef, who comes in, scores and has an excellent match.”

Martinez controlled a cross from Raheem Edwards in the box before slotting a shot into the bottom corner with his left foot, putting Montreal up 1-0 in first-half injury time with his second of the campaign.

Cincinnati evened the score in the 58th minute as Kubo calmly placed a chance past Montreal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois after star midfielder Luciano Acosta sent him in alone. Acosta, last year’s league MVP, has two goals and four assists this season.

Lassiter quickly responded in the 62nd minute, burying a feed from Martinez with a one-touch rocket past Kann as Montreal regained the lead. The 29-year-old Costa Rican earned a rare opportunity to start as an attacker after playing as a wingback for much of his time in Montreal.

“Once (Martinez) played that ball, the ball was played perfectly, I had one thought, and that was to go to the goal, that was to keep it on the frame,” Lassiter said. “Thank God I had the opportunity and it went in."

Cincinnati pushed back and controlled most of the ball in the final half-hour, but couldn’t get another goal past Sirois.

Montreal dominated the first half, holding 54.4 per cent of the possession with 10 shot attempts to Cincinnati’s two after a chippy first 45 minutes that featured five yellow cards.

The scoring chances started early as Ruan blasted a shot off the post in the ninth minute after a give-and-go with Mathieu Choiniere, who found the Brazilian wingback running into the box.

Lassiter and Bryce Duke, who drove Montreal’s offence through most of the first half, connected on an exchange in the 17th minute. Lassiter, however, fired his shot wide.

It all set the tone for a satisfying home opener for Courtois.

"That's exactly what we wanted to see, the type of build up that we wanted to see, the type of arriving in the box we wanted to see,” he said. “You had all little departments together and that gave a solid performance from the guys.

"Good day."


Cincinnati: Visits Atlanta United next Saturday.

Montreal: Hosts Orlando City SC next Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2024.