MONTREAL — A marathon run of seven games in three weeks ended with a victory for CF Montreal, with coach Wilfried Nancy left praising his side’s effort after the gruelling run.
Montreal secured a crucial victory in the MLS Eastern Conference playoff race on Saturday, beating Atlanta United 2-1 with a whirlwind second half.
Romell Quioto scored his seventh and eighth goals of the season for Montreal (11-10-7) while Jake Mulraney scored Atlanta’s (10-9-9) lone goal.
Nancy’s men played seven games in 21 days across two competitions before the international break.
“I’m really proud and happy with the whole team and the staff after this run of games,” said Nancy. “You see them run but you forget the mental toll these games take, and the fact that they stayed focus the whole way through was great.”
Halftime substitute Mulraney found space behind Montreal’s back line and calmly placed the ball into the bottom right corner in the 48th minute.
Two minutes later, Quioto converted a chance and pulled Montreal level after a slew of missed opportunities. From a tight angle to the right of the Atlanta goal, Quioto fired a rocket into the roof of the net.
Less than two minutes after that, Samuel Piette played a perfect ball into a streaking Joaquin Torres, who was brought down for a penalty. Quioto stepped up and confidently tucked it into the bottom right corner to give Montreal the lead.
“These kinds of situations are all mental. The first five minutes after a team scores is very important,” said Djordje Mihailovic, who tied Ignacio Piatti’s single-season franchise record with 13 assists. “We got on the front foot right after the (second-half) kickoff and we were able to put them on the back foot and press until we got two goals.”
In the 70th, Torres had a chance to double Montreal’s lead when he was through on a breakaway, but a weak shot couldn’t get past Brad Guzan.
While they sent more bodies forward, Atlanta did very little to threaten an equalizer for the remainder of the game.
“This result wasn’t a lucky one, this was earned with hard work,” said Nancy. “We’re a team that likes to have possession and control the flow of the game and that’s not something you have when defending a lead. So it was good to see that side of them come out today.”
Montreal got off to a nervy start, giving the ball away in possession numerous times. Just two minutes in, goalkeeper James Pantemis gave the ball away inside the box to Santiago Sosa but was spared when the shot went wide.
“We ask goalies to play with the ball at this club and stuff like that happens to goalies,” said Pantemis. “I just have to keep it simple if I run out of options. It just so happens to be in the first minute but thankfully we didn’t concede.”
It took Montreal fifteen minutes to find their first sight of goal. Quioto was played through with a clear shot but took too long
Saputo Stadium seemed to hold its breath when the Honduran stayed down following the play after picking up a knock on his thigh, but he continued to play after receiving treatment. He was taken off in the 65th minute as a precautionary measure and is currently being evaluated by the club.
At the 24-minute mark, Quioto found himself with another chance after a perfect ball from Mihailovic but he put the header wide.
The game seemed to slow down significantly with neither team wanting to concede first. The 38th minute offered a rare change of pace with both teams finding excellent scoring opportunities through Sosa and Quioto.
“We do miss a good amount of chances and that just comes down to composure in and around the box. Composure and execution,” said Mihailovic. “We did a much better job of that in the second half, getting two important goals and showing that we could be clinical against a really tough team.”
Right before halftime, Ezequiel Barco made a mockery of the Montreal defence, leaving three defenders including Pantemis on the ground, and he should have put it away, but sent the shot off the crossbar.
While the first half was a staunchly defensive affair, the second could not be further from the same.
Both teams return to action on Oct. 16 following the international break. Montreal will face off against the Philadelphia Union and Atlanta will travel to Toronto to play TFC.