As a defensive unit, Santos Laguna may have hit form at precisely the wrong time for CF Montreal.
After a particularly ropy start to the LigaMX Clausura during which new coach Pedro Caixinha has shuffled and re-shuffled his pieces, Santos has not conceded in its last two games.
But for insurance in this evening’s CCL 2nd Leg meeting (8 p.m., OneSoccer, TSN Radio 690, 91.9 Sports), they’ll still be keen to nick a goal at Montreal’s Stade Olympique.
If the Mexicans can breach the CFM rearguard even once, then Wilfried Nancy’s men will need three to progress - and that’s something they’ve never done at home in the knock-out stages of this competition.
The absence of Mason Toye clearly doesn’t help the Canadian cause. Tonight’s hosts are short on firepower and increasingly reliant on Honduran international Romell Quioto for the goal, or goals, required to progress.
It promises to be a cagey affair, one in which if their side is to advance and banish memories of that horrendous 2009 collapse, Montreal fans must be patient. A gung-ho approach will play mightily into Mexican hands.
The Ultras, 1642 et al may have to say a prayer or two as well, for there’s a very real prospect this one will go to penalties. Strangely there’s no extra-time, clearly increasing the possibility of a shoot-out to decide the winner.
On the edge of their seats or not, the crowd will be limited to 50% capacity with Covid restrictions, and the lower bowl which accommodates 15,605 spectators is expected to be almost full.
Montreal had Sebastian Breza to thank for keeping the first-leg margin to one. The normally nonchalant, unfazed, shot-stopper had an uncharacteristically nervous start on his continental debut last week in Torreon, but it was his performance which ensured a tiring Montreal carried forward hope to the 2nd-Leg.
Recent signing from Deportivo Cali, Harold Preciado is the VerdiBlancos dangerman. Despite only one goal in his four appearances to date the Colombian international looks more comfortable by the game, and was the most likely of anyone on the pitch on Saturday to break the scoreless deadlock away to Juarez.
That result kept Santos Laguna rooted to the bottom of the table after six rounds, unfamiliar surroundings for a club that demands better.
Former Rangers (Scotland) coach, Caixinha, in his second spell at the Santos Laguna helm, will believe his extensive tinkering with team line-up and growing knowledge of his players, is beginning to pay dividends.
Yet the only victory he’s overseen to date was the first-leg success over Montreal. Avoiding defeat tonight, thus ensuring progress in the competition, will provide a huge confidence boost to a side still struggling for results.
By video-conference, Joel Waterman was upbeat and confident of Montreal’s chances...
“I think we know we’re in it and we had lots of chances down in Mexico. The game’s there for the taking.”
Kamal Miller, also optimistic, came across more analytically and cautiously...
“Breza did an amazing job and kept us in the game. Without him, the scoreline would be looking a lot different and the feeling going into this game would be a lot different.
“It was a massive performance. Fix those little areas and we’ll be much better in the second game.
“I think we’re in a good spot. It was an unlucky goal to concede that late in the game. It’s definitely not over. We know, at our home, we always put good pressure on teams and have a good chance to get a result. We’re optimistic about the game coming up.”
Montreal will be the better for their first serious outing of the season and if things aren’t going well up top tonight and a goal is needed, new arrival Kei Kamara, even if not yet match-fit, is an interesting option and may just provide the key.
The Sierra Leonean’s presence, which needs no introduction to MLS fans, will be cause for Mexican concern should Nancy decide, or be required, to throw him into the action.
The respective sides’ needs during this game will evolve as the action unravels but the important thing for the hosts is not to concede a goal. For having to score three against tonight’s opposition could be a bridge too far for this Montreal team...
Then again... strange things have happened before at the end of continental contests between these two clubs...
Prospective Line-ups -
CFM: Breza - Corbo, Waterman, Miller - Johnston, Wanyama, Zouhir, Choiniere - Mihailovic - Torres, Quioto
Santos: Acevedo - Campos, Doria, Torres, Govea - Gorriaran, Games, Lozano, Cervantes - Aguirre, Preciado
Referee: Juan Gabriel Calderon (CRC)
Asst Refs: Juan Carlos Mora (CRC), William Arrieta (CRC)
4th Official: William Anderson (PRI)
VAR: Chris Penso (USA), Guido Gonzales (USA)