Toronto FC, CF Montreal renew rivalry after a tough run of luck of late

Toronto FC coach John Herdman is expecting a motivated CF Montreal at BMO Field on Saturday when the two teams renew their rivalry. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Toronto FC coach John Herdman is expecting a motivated CF Montreal at BMO Field on Saturday when the two teams renew their rivalry.

Both teams are coming off losses and looking for a change in fortunes.

A depleted Toronto, its roster shredded by suspensions and injuries, fell 2-0 at Nashville SC on Wednesday. It was a second straight loss after five consecutive wins in all competitions.

The rot is deeper in injury-ravaged Montreal, which has just one win in its last 10 games (1-6-3) and is winless in its last six outings (0-3-3) in all competitions. It is coming off a 3-1 mid-week loss to visiting Columbus. 

Montreal’s last win was a 2-1 decision over visiting FC Cincinnati on April 13.

While Toronto (6-6-1) goes into weekend play seven points and seven places ahead of 13th-place Montreal in the Eastern Conference, Herdman sees danger signs in the visitors.

“They’re coming into a derby match which I’m sure is going to ignite them,” he said after training Friday. “If I’m on the other side of that fence, I’m talking about this is the moment that kick-starts the season. I’m talking about this is a reset button. And drawing on the passion of a rivalry that’s been here since the start of these two clubs in MLS.

“So there’s a lot for them to play for and a big opportunity. So for us, we have got to match that.”

But Montreal has leaked goals of late, outscored 10-4 in its last three league outings.

Laurent Courtois’s team ranks 28th in the league on defence, conceding 2.17 goals a game on average. Only San Jose has a worse defensive record at 2.46 goals a game.

“I think offensively there’s a lot of positives,” said Montreal midfielder Dominic Iankov, who was born in Toronto. “Obviously there’s been a lot of games where we score goals and then we just concede cheap goals. So maybe we have to work a bit on that, just to be concentrated throughout the whole game.”

Montreal is in the middle of the MLS pack on offence, tied for 15th with Atlanta, Columbus and Nashville at 1.33 goals a game.

In comparison, Toronto ranks 16th on defence (1.46 goals a game) and 19th on offence (tied with Austin FC, FC Cincinnati and NYCFC at 1.23 goals a game).

Herdman and nine players missed the mid-week loss in Nashville through injury or suspension after a post-game melee with New York City FC players and staff last Saturday. On Friday, the league handed fines and additional one-game suspensions to injured Toronto fullback/wingback Richie Laryea and NYCFC defender Strahinja Tanasijevic for their roles in the incident.

But Italian star Federico Bernardeschi and goalkeeper Sean Johnson join Herdman in returning from suspension.

Toronto is without the injured Shane O’Neill and Brandon Servania, with several other question-marks.

Kevin Long has served his suspension for yellow card accumulation but is still dealing with a hamstring issue from the NYCFC game. Herdman says the big defender will undergo a fitness test Saturday but is “highly unlikely” to play,

Captain Jonathan Osorio, who missed the mid-week game with a thigh injury, is also questionable.

On the plus side, teenage Toronto wingback Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty is back from his hamstring injury. And Italian star Lorenzo Insigne is expanded to play an expanded role after 14-minute and 28-minute appearances off the bench following an eight-game injury absence.

“Lorenzo’s going to be a big part of what we do (Saturday),” said Herdman.

The former Napoli captain appears up for the match.

“It’s a very important game for the fans, for the city, for us as players,” Insigne, who rarely speaks to the media, told mls.com. “We want to give everything on the field and play really well to be able to win the game because it’s important. A Clásico is everything.”

Montreal was missing Matias Coccaro, Grayson Doody, Raheem Edwards, Ousman Jabang, Lassi Lappalainen, Josef Martinez, Mahala Opoku and Nathan Saliba through injury for its mid-week loss. 

Doody is back and “we keep having good news on players feeling better,” said Courtois.

Saturday marks Toronto’s eighth game and Montreal’s seventh in all competitions in 28 days, with both sides facing two more matches next week. 

Toronto tries for the third time for a win that will allow the club to match its entire points total from last season when it finished last in the league at 4-20-10.

The two Canadian rivals have met 33 times in regular-season play with each having won 14 times. There have been five draws.

But Toronto is winless in the last seven meetings (0-6-1) since a 2-1 win in September and has not beaten Montreal at home since August 2019 when it won 2-1.

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