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MONTREAL — Putting together a strong regular-season run in Major League Soccer requires consistency and showing up for big games.
CF Montréal has the former, with wins in four of its last six contests. The latter will be tested when the club hosts New York City FC on Saturday at Stade Saputo in a key Eastern Conference matchup.
Montreal sits fourth in the conference standings heading into the game, six points behind second-place New York. Both teams will look to take advantage of a golden opportunity to move up the table with some hard-earned points.
“It’s a big one for us, for sure. We always say we want to be on the right track and not be in a difficult position (come playoff time),” Montreal forward Kei Kamara said. “We just have to focus and go game after game. New York’s going to be a difficult game, they’re a very good team.”
NYCFC has enjoyed a great run of form of late. Its six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) has moved it one point behind conference-leading Philadelphia with a game in hand.
However, New York faces a major offensive challenge going forward after it was announced that 2021 Golden Boot winner Valentín Castellanos is leaving the club on loan to play in Spain's top division with newly promoted Girona. Castellanos leads the MLS the scoring race with 13 goals and two assists in 17 games.
“I definitely won’t be missing him,” joked head coach Wilfried Nancy. “He’s an excellent player and he deserves this opportunity, but they still have lots of weapons and can still score plenty. They’re one of the best teams in the league and that doesn’t change overnight”
Montreal will have the added boost of wanting revenge for a 4-1 drumming they suffered earlier in the season at Yankee Stadium.
“You play these teams twice for a reason, if the first one doesn’t go well, we want to make sure we rectify it,” said defender Joel Waterman. “I think it’s going to be a statement game for us. They’re reigning champs still and for us we want to beat the best.”
New York will have to adapt to a pitch drastically different from their own on Saturday. Yankee Stadium is the smallest field in MLS while Stade Saputo is over 1,300 square metres larger, taking top spot in the league and lending itself to Montreal’s possession-based playstyle.
Montreal players will go into the game with heavy hearts after the team announced that assistant coach and former player Jason Di Tullio died Thursday night at 38 following a battle with cancer.
The club said it will pay tribute to Di Tullio at Saturday's match.
“It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of our colleague, teammate, and friend, who left us far too soon," CF Montréal President and CEO Gabriel Gervais said in a statement.
"Jason was extremely brave and fought until the end. He will forever be remembered in our minds and the memory of the club as an iconic player and mentor."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2022.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press