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Rare road win in Orlando would help CF Montreal's MLS playoff push

Orlando City SC CF Montreal Facundo Torres, Samuel Piette - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — A rare road victory against Orlando City SC on Saturday evening could go a long way in securing a playoff spot for CF Montreal.

It’s a very tall order for Montreal as it heads into its final four games of the Major League Soccer season.

Orlando (14-7-9) has not lost at home in all competitions since April 22 and currently sits second in the Easter Conference. But pressures do not appear to be affecting Montreal (11-15-4), which currently sits in eighth in the East and holds down the Conference’s top wild-card spot despite being winless in its last five games following a heavy 4-1 loss to Atlanta United last week.

“I honestly think there’s no pressure right now because nobody believes that we can make the playoffs,” said head coach Hernan Losada. “We’re in a position right now that very few people outside the club and the fans thought we would be in.

‘The real pressure in on the teams that invested millions to become champions. They have the pressure to make the playoffs and win.”

While it is common to see MLS teams see a significant drop off in results and quality of performance between home and away games, very few teams have taken it to the extent Montreal has. Despite having the join third-best defence at Stade Saputo this season, CF Montreal has the worst defence on the road by some margin, conceding 35 goals in 15 games and winning just eight points.

Other teams in a playoff position might compensate with added scoring, but only last-place Toronto FC has scored fewer goals away from home than Montreal, which ends the season with a match at Columbus.

“It’s pretty obvious that whatever we have been doing on the road has not worked as much as we wanted so we should think about doing something differently,” said Losada. “We need to have smarter game plans and maybe more realistic game plans. What we’ve been doing at home may not be working on the road.”

At home, Montreal has proven to be a formidable opponent using a vertical style of play. That ability has not carried over on the road, leaving it vulnerable to counter attacks without the offensive firepower to reply with goals of its own.

That lack of attacking threat — due mostly to the extended absence of the recently returned Romell Quioto — could be what Montreal looks back on with regret should it miss the post-season. The club is on pace to not have a single player register 10 or more goal involvements for the first time in its 11 years as an MLS side.

“It’s all in our hands right now, if at the end of four games we’ve missed the playoffs but we’ve given it out everything then there’s still something to be proud of and to grow from,” said captain Samuel Piette, who was very vocal in his displeasure with the team’s tactics following its loss in Atlanta.

“At the end of the day, we’re in eighth place out of 15 in the conference and about midtable in the whole league so there are clearly things we’re doing well. That Atlanta game was just one where we did far more bad things than good.”

Montreal’s backline will have the added challenge of facing Orlando’s high-powered attack. In the loss to Atlanta, Joel Waterman — the team’s senior central defender — was sent off, leaving him suspended for the next game. This could mean that new arrival Fernando Alvarez will get his first start with the club after two impressive substitute appearances.

The Colombian youth international was a standout during the 2023 Under-20 World Cup, prompting Montreal to sign him from Mexican side Pachuca two months ago.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2023.