CF Montreal will have it all to play for on Decision Day, sitting only two points behind first place in the Eastern Conference after a nervy 1-0 win over D.C. United on Saturday evening.
A Donovan Pines own goal was the sole difference between Montreal (19-9-5) and United (7-20-6), who suffered their 20th loss of the Major Soccer League season.
Montreal got on the front foot immediately, dictating the pace, dominating possession, and creating a golden opportunity inside the first 10 minutes. Lassi Lappalainen was played in perfectly and circled around the keeper but missed the wide-open net.
United began to sit in a low block, stacking the defence with two banks of four players. This is a strategy many teams have employed while visiting the Stade Saputo, finding some success in the process.
“We did a good job in controlling the tempo for the majority of the game,” said Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy. “When you are able to control the rhythm of the ball, that’s the easiest way to kill the movement of the opponent. We play well against every team that plays with a low block (here), it’s just a matter of finishing.”
United was having some success in repelling Montreal’s attacks and even had a few shots on Montreal keeper James Pantemis. However, they were punished for venturing forward just three minutes before halftime.
Following an overlapping run, Zachary Brault-Guillard played a dangerous cross that Donovan Pines deflected in.
Searching for an equalizer, D.C. began to press higher and higher up the field and found their best opportunity of the half with 15 minutes left. Benteke got on the end of an inch-perfect through ball, forcing another excellent stop by Pantemis.
Only a minute later, Ismaël Koné was played in on goal and drew a penalty after being brought down by Pines, who was sent off. Torres stepped up to take the spot kick but was denied when he placed it to the keeper’s left.
“It’s never easy to hold a lead, especially in this league and killing the game is something that we need to do better,” said Koné. “That being said, we shut the door on them well and knew how to limit their chances and we handled that pressure well.”
Only three minutes before full time, it seemed as though D.C. found their equalizer when a strike from the outside of the box finally beat Pantemis, but the goal was called back due to an offside.
Hanging onto leads has always been a sore spot for Montreal, who missed out on last year’s playoffs because of that very reason. While it was a relatively chaotic end to the game, securing three points has become a hallmark of the team’s significant points improvement compared to the previous campaign.
“We have to address that solidity — make sure to put games out of reach come the playoffs,” said Rudy Camacho. “We kept playing our game and were looking for that second goal. Yes, we did end up conceding but thankfully it was ruled out but that’s something we need to work on.”
With the Philadelphia Union losing 4-0 to Charlotte FC, Montreal now heads into Decision Day with a chance at first place in the Eastern Conference and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Both teams will close out their regular season on Oct. 9 as Montreal heads to South Beach to square off against Inter Miami, while D.C. hosts FC Cincinnati.