MONTREAL — CF Montreal is set to face their toughest challenge at home to date but head coach Hernan Losada is confident in his side's chances at Stade Saputo.
Montreal (11-14-3) takes on one of the best road teams in Major League Soccer in league-leading FC Cincinnati (17-4-7) on Wednesday. Cincinnati has lost just three road games (5-3-6) all year, earning the second-most away points (21) in MLS this season.
However, Montreal has consistently risen to the challenges presented by the Eastern Conference's best visiting. With nine clean sheets and just as many wins in 14 games, they are among the best home teams in the league.
“Even if Cincinnati is currently the best team in the league, I’m positive that we’re going to have a great match,” Losada said. “When we play at home, the team feels good.
"The crowd gets behind us and we have an incredible atmosphere which gives a massive boost to the players.”
After a difficult adjustment to MLS life early on — having joined the league in 2019 — Cincinnati has been on an upward trajectory, culminating in their best season to date.
However, their recent form has hit a few speed bumps. After getting knocked out of the Leagues Cup by Nashville in penalties, Cincinnati lost three of their next six in all competitions, including one from spot kicks at the hands of Lionel Messi and Inter Miami in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal.
But the results don't take away from how dangerous Cincinnati can be going forward. With weapons like forward Brandon Vasquez and midfielders Alvaro Barreal and Luciano Acosta — the current MVP front-runner — they have made a habit of turning one goal into an avalanche.
“It’s going to be a massive challenge for not just the back line but for the whole squad, but we look forward to playing those types of players,” said defender Joel Waterman.
“(Acosta) does it all, he’s one of the best players in our league and we have to make sure that we keep him at bay and not get the space he needs.”
A win against Cincinnati would go a long way in helping Montreal secure their place in the post-season. After settling for a 0-0 draw against Chicago last Saturday thanks to a lack of finishing, Montreal had a rare instance of dropping points at home.
Montreal — sitting in eighth in the East, with the top nine making the playoffs — kept the gap between them and 10th-place Chicago at three points thanks to a draw between Charlotte FC and D.C. United, who sits one point back of Montreal in ninth.
The result set up six crucial regular-season games against opponents who are all in the playoff picture and have seemingly found their scoring touch.
“I don’t think we’re going to be creating 10-15 scoring opportunities every game, especially against teams stronger than Chicago or when we’re on the road,” said Losada. “Defensive discipline is important but it’s also crucial to be more efficient in front of goal than last Saturday.”
The game against Chicago did, however, see the much-anticipated return of star forward Romell Quioto, who missed over four months with a torn hamstring.
Quioto is expected to be on the bench again versus Cincinnati.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2023.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press