CF Montreal looks to carry momentum into Orlando City SC matchup
MONTREAL — CF Montreal is focused on maintaining the momentum of their first winning streak this season heading into a clash against Orlando City SC at home on Saturday evening.
Despite being one of the relative newcomers to Major League Soccer, Orlando (4-3-2) has developed a short but intense rivalry with Montreal (3-6-0) since eliminating the Canadian club from the playoffs on Decision Day in 2021.
Montreal won two of the three meetings between the teams last year, but Orlando has significantly improved its squad and added more firepower with Designated Player Martin Ojeda.
Orlando stumbled out of the starting gate despite the off-season expectations, dropping three games at home already, but can still hurt Montreal as an undefeated team on the road.
“They’re a good team, but we’re at home and we want to impose ourselves right away, so that will be the key,” said Montreal midfielder Mathieu Choinière. “Players are coming back [from injury] and it brings back quality to the group and it brings good vibes.”
Having picked up three consecutive wins in all competitions, Montreal finally appears to have found its groove under new head coach Hernan Losada.
Losada's vertical and direct style of play was a departure from the patient and methodical approach of previous coach Wilfried Nancy, leading the team to commit a lot of errors and produce the worst defence in the league at the start of the season.
But that's starting to change.
“The hard work is starting to pay off and everyone is putting in a great effort," said Losada after Montreal’s recent win against Sporting Kansas City. "Having the ball isn’t the only thing that matters, the quality of your possession is much more important.
“There’s always pressure when you want to be competitive in the soccer world and that pressure has to be something positive. You are demanded to provide results and that is something I love.”
One of the keys to this success is the midfield, which has taken significant steps forward in recent weeks.
Already struggling to cope with the off-season departures of key players, the midfield was hit even harder by injuries to start the season.
But with the arrival of Bryce Duke, the emergence of Choinière as one of the surprises of the season and Sean Rea looking like the latest academy gem, Montreal’s technical quality going forward is improving.
Against Kansas City, Montreal was able to keep possession all while quickly playing forward, a mentality that contributed directly to the first goal of the game—one that all three players were involved in.
“We’re three players who think and play similarly and we like playing together on the field,” said Choinière. “We’re always talking in training, so it translates pretty easily to games and was a chemistry that formed pretty quickly.”
The game against Orlando also kicks off a very congested stretch for Montreal, which plays five games in 14 days including back-to-back Canadian Classiques against Toronto FC. Runs like this have historically been a difficult period for the club, especially with three of the games coming on the road.
However, the imminent returns of key players like Matko Miljevic, Romell Quioto and Samuel Piette could help Losada rotate the squad.
It does also leave Losada in relatively unfamiliar territory during his tenure in Montreal. With everyone in the process of returning, except Mason Toye who is recovering from knee surgery, Losada will have a surplus of starting-calibre players for the first time all season.
“It’s good to have a bunch of creative players back, it’s a problem for the coach but a good problem,” said Duke. “If one player’s tired, you have another creative player that comes off the bench and is ready to play.
"It also builds that kind of competition in training and just makes everyone better.”
Kickoff at Stade Saputo is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2023.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press