MONTREAL — CF Montreal had a difficult start on the road last year before embarking on a trip that defined its season.
Montreal was 0-4-1 away from Stade Saputo before consecutive comeback road wins in early April against Cincinnati and the New York Red Bulls. Those results sparked a change of mentality for Montreal and helped it secure the best road record in Major League Soccer history since the end of the shootout era.
In a similar position this season, Montreal will be looking to build on a hard-fought draw against D.C. United when it faces Eastern Conference heavyweight Philadelphia at Subaru Park on Saturday evening.
There are only seven teams in MLS that currently have a winning road record, and it is no coincidence that they are all in the race to claim the Supporter’s Shield as the top regular-season team. While Montreal (6-1-8) ranks among the worst in the league on that front with four points in nine away matches, coming back from 2-0 to secure a point against United could be what was needed to jumpstart the club’s road performance.
“This gave us a lot of confidence and belief to understand that the game is not over until it’s over,” said Montreal head coach Hernan Losada. “You can still push with people off the bench and a change of tactics, anything can happen.
“Every team that comes back from 2-0 on the road must have a lot of mental toughness.”
This is the second time the two teams will be facing off this season. Montreal mounted a dramatic come-from-behind win on March 18, erasing a 2-1 deficit in stoppage time and claiming their first win of the season in front of a raucous Olympic Stadium crowd.
Philadelphia (8-4-3) has overcome a difficult start to the season that saw the club juggle MLS action with a deep CONCACAF Champions League run. Since then, the Union have gone undefeated since April 8 in replicating their Supporter’s Shield form of last season.
Philadelphia has dropped points at home this season, doing so three times against weaker opposition. However, it has kept a clean sheet in its last three home games and has not conceded a goal there in nearly 300 minutes.
“(Philadelphia) is a very good team that found their form recently, and obviously it’s a tough place to go,” said Montreal defender Joel Waterman. “A huge thing for us (on this trip) is to get points on the road and our goal doesn’t change for Philly.”
Montreal has managed just five times in its nine road games and has struggled to assert its style of play. With attackers Romell Quioto and Mason Toye still out indefinitely, Losada has turned to the likes of Chinonso Offor, Ariel Lassiter, and Sunusi Ibrahim to supplement the scoring.
Lassiter and Sunusi have developed a strong chemistry on the field and assisted one another in the two goals against D.C. en route to salvaging a point. They will once again be crucial if Montreal hopes to get a result at Subaru Park.
With the majority of strikers on the squad fitting the same profile of physically tall and imposing target men, Ibrahim and Lassiter have brought their own approach. The two have consistently used their speed and dribbling ability to bring a different facet to the Montreal attack and inject pace in the final third when it is lacking.
“There’s an understanding between (myself and Lassiter) even in training,” said Ibrahim who has registered two goals and two assists in his last two games. “We look for each other and talk a lot on the field and we know how to create space.
“I’m always working on bringing something different that will help the team. The more games you play and the more goals you score, the more you become confident.”