MONTREAL — With CF Montreal’s rain-soaked win over Chicago on Tuesday evening at Stade Saputo, the club has done enough to secure home field advantage for the first round of the Major League Soccer Playoffs.
Now needing a single win to secure second place in the Eastern Conference, much of the pressure is off head coach Wilfried Nancy’s shoulders as Montreal (17-9-5) prepares for a road game Saturday against the New England Revolution.
“The only pressure for us is to play well,” said Nancy, who heavily rotated his squad in Tuesday's 3-2 victory over the Fire. “A manager’s best tool is competition and that’s how we’re going to have the squad at the highest level possible.”
That will not be the case for Montreal's opponents on Saturday evening. The Revolution (9-11-11) enter the match 10th in the Eastern Conference, three points back of seventh-place Columbus for the conference's final playoff spot. Saturday's result could make or break the Revolution’s push for the post-season.
Montreal could see more squad rotation over its last regular-season games as its starting 11 for the playoffs begins to solidify. Making significant changes to the lineup is something Nancy has never shied away from, especially with how condensed the MLS season is.
“Every player on the team has to compromise a little for the good of the group so if I come off the bench, then I’m going to give it everything,” said Joaquin Torres, who has fallen slightly on the team’s attacking depth chart. “Even in training, everyone's giving their all and the fact that starters and substitutes are all committed to this collective goal makes us so strong right now.”
While Montreal has enjoyed another strong run of form after a slight dip at home, New England has not benefitted from the same success, winning a single game in its last seven.
Head coach Bruce Arena expressed doubt that his team could make a post-season push following a 3-1 loss at Houston on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what the probability of us qualifying for the playoffs would be. I don’t think it’s great,” Arena said after the match.
Nancy warned against the Revolution using the coach's words as motivation.
“I don’t think they played that well and I understand his reaction, but when a coach says something like that the team tends to come out strong,” Nancy said. “They’re still in the playoff race and we’ll be ready for that, but they will be running a lot and we have to prepare."
Montreal got the better of New England the last time the two sides met, coming away with a convincing 4-0 victory at Stade Saputo on Aug. 20.
"The game we played in Montreal was one where, in all fairness to our group, we were not able to start a healthy team," Arena said. "We had to make some adjustments to our lineup that obviously were not good. But I think we will be able to field a stronger team on Saturday."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2022.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press