MONTREAL — With one of the worst road records in Major League Soccer, CF Montreal is about kick off a potentially season-defining trip when the squad takes on D.C. United at Audi Field on Wednesday night.
Montreal (6-8-0) will travel to play United (5-6-4), the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, and then the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship final next Wednesday.
Positive results in these three games could not only provide a significant boost for Montreal’s playoff hopes but allow the team to capture its first piece of silverware in the Hernan Losada era.
Montreal and D.C. have already tangled once this season, with a tense and tactical matchup ultimately going United’s way through a 1-0 win. Since then, Wayne Rooney’s men have struggled. The team has only won one game against last-place Toronto FC in its last six matches, but will be turning to their strong home form to right the ship.
"I’m expecting a difficult game against an opponent that invested a lot this year and who have a very competitive team,” said Losada, who spent 15 months as United’s coach before joining Montreal.
“It’s always special when you come back to a place that you worked. I worked there for a year-and-a-half in a good stadium with a great atmosphere.”
Montreal’s compact schedule means that key players have been forced to play more minutes with less rest. Mathieu Choinière, who has emerged as one of Montreal's best players this season is a prime example, having played an incredible 917 out of the possible 990 minutes since a run of mid-week games began.
“I’ve never seen something like this before,” said captain Victor Wanyama. “(Multiple games a week) for a stretch of four weeks is new to me. Whenever you don’t have training just rest and put your legs up.”
So many games in a short period of time means coaches will inevitably look to squad players and relatively unlikely sources to secure points. That has been the case lately as the emergence of certain role players have helped the club stay in the playoff picture.
The rapid-fire games have taken their toll on some players, leaving star forward Romell Quioto with a long-term hamstring injury. In the interim, Chinonso Offor has been one of the key contributors going forward thanks to his lethal blend of size and spatial awareness, albeit his finishing needs some work.
Another player who has stood out is Ariel Lassiter. With the lack of pace as well as a need for a true left back being one of the most problematic areas in the Montreal depth chart, Lassiter’s arrival last month from Inter Miami has fit in nicely.
“You always try and help the team in any way whether it’s goals or assists, but the most important thing is that the team wins,” said Lassiter. “I’m able to have a position where I’m able to play and get a lot of minutes. As a player, that creates a lot of confidence for me.”
Despite being a natural winger and forward, Lassiter has adjusted rather well to the new position, handling the defensive responsibilities that come with being part of the backline all while showing off his creative ability on the attack.
Montreal will also be looking to avenge the only home loss it has suffered this season. Of the eight games played at Stade Saputo, the club has won seven, with the defeat against United serving as the only blemish on an otherwise perfect home record.
However, looking back on that defeat has helped both the players and the coaching staff take stock in the improvement that has transpired since their worst-ever start to a season.
“We are definitely not the same team from the start of the season and we’re not the same team that lost (against D.C. at home),” said Losada. “We’re in a very positive state right now. There’s very good energy with the group and the cohesion is getting better and better.”
Kickoff at Audi Field is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2023.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press