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Montreal Too Strong For Santos

Nancy’s men turn it on and settle an old Champions League score...

MLS: Concacaf Champions League-Santos Laguna at CF Montreal
Debutant Ismael Kone’s shot just on the hour mark proves the insurance goal as Acevedo and Rodriguez (20) can’t stop the ball entering the net...
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

CF Montreal ..... (2)3 ..... Santos Laguna (MEX) ..... (0)0
CF Montreal wins 3-1 on aggregate...

There were about 40,000 less in the stadium last night than for the previous visit of Santos Laguna to Montreal and although the outcome over 90 mins was similar, this time it was enough to carry CFM on to the next round of the competition.

Now, Wilfried Nancy’s troupe can look forward to a quarter-final meeting with either another Mexican opponent, Cruz Azul, or Hamilton’s, Forge FC. Cruz Azul lead 1-0 from the first-leg and are expected to close the deal when Forge FC visit Mexico City this evening.

It was arguably Wilfried Nancy’s best night as a head-coach. The Frenchman got his tactics and team-selection spot on.

Admittedly I didn’t see this result coming, but Montreal emphatically confounded their critics, lifting the mood and increasing optimism for their MLS opener on Sunday in Orlando

It was almost a carbon copy of the Champions League semi-final win over Costa Rica’s Alajuelense in 2015, with the then Impact racing into a two-goal lead early in the game. But last night they went one better, managing to add a deserved third, the insurance goal which effectively smoothed their passage into the last eight.

MLS: Concacaf Champions League-Santos Laguna at CF Montreal
Kone celebrates his 61st minute goal with Romell Quioto and Joel Waterman.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Going back to the start, it took only eight minutes to wipe out Santos’ slender one-goal advantage. Quioto was the man, getting ahead of Rodriguez who was to endure a difficult night, and reaching Choiniere’s pass just ahead of the on-rushing Acevedo.

There was still much to do as Quioto rounded the goalkeeper, the hard surface carrying his deft touch wide of goal. But despite the narrow angle, the Honduran managed to convert, his finish kissing the far post on its way to net.

Perhaps the visitors, confidence fragile after a poor start to their Clausura season, sensed the worst, even at that point. Fielding an unusual central defensive partnership, with Torres and Doria their normal pairing out injured and coach Caixinha absent with Covid, the last thing they’d have wanted was a poor start to the contest.

But that’s exactly what they got and when Djordje Mihailovic arrived in the box like a steam-train on 22 mins, smashing in goal number two off the underside of the bar, things went from bad to worse for the Mexicans.

The excellent Matthieu Choiniere almost made it three on the stroke of half-time, controlling a clearance on the edge of the area and launching a volley which found the top of Acevedo’s bar.

Santos didn’t provide much in the way of chances to catalogue save for a Gorriaran shot which Breza got behind but couldn’t hold. Rather in the second-half it was Montreal who looked the more threatening. Mihailovic tried to head goal-wards when a ricochet flashed towards him and Kone after being released by Torres, went through only to be foiled by Acevedo.

But the Abidjan-born 19 year-old wasn’t to be outdone. Nine times previously he’d sat on the Montreal bench as an unused sub. Finally he was getting his big chance, an inspired selection by his coach, who must have been delighted to see the youngster finish a bright move designed by Mihailovic and Torres.

The pair had carved open the Mexicans down the right side and Mihailovic’s perfect pass gave Kone his perfect moment, becoming Montreal’s youngest-ever scorer in Champions League play.

MLS: Concacaf Champions League-Santos Laguna at CF Montreal
Matthieu Choiniere takes on Santos’ defender, Omar Campos.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints were slain and some old demons dismissed all at once, on a night of firsts for the Montrealers. It was their first 90 minute victory in knock-out play over a Mexican team, the first time they’d scored three in a game beyond the competition’s group stages and the first time overturning a first-leg deficit to advance in CCL.

The debate can rage all night long; was Santos not as good as we thought, or has another developmental 12 months put this Montreal unit on a higher plane?

You can take your pick but truthfully it’s probably a little bit of both. It was certainly an encouraging display to warm the hearts of Montreal fans with the new MLS season only hours away.

A proud coach had praise for his team, highlighting their pro-activity and cohesion shown.
“We are not a team that will wait for the opponent and want to be proactive,” said Nancy. “That’s what I want to see from my team. Today, I am happy that we were able to do it all together. The guys were on the same wavelength.”

Star midfielder Mihailovic, who along with Romell Quioto grabbed both a goal and an assist, compared performance over the two legs... “I think we were a little too worried going into our first game. It was our first real test of the season and despite everything, we got away with allowing only one goal. We were therefore quite optimistic for the return. The guys were confident that we could do something special tonight and we did.”

It seems churlish to talk about downsides after such a memorable result, but if there was one it has to be Quioto picking up his second yellow card meaning he’s suspended for the quarter-final first-leg.

Line-ups -
CFMTL: Breza - Camacho, Waterman (Johnston, 64), Miller - Choiniere, Wanyama, Kone, Lappalainen (Brault-Guillard, 75) - Torres (Miljevic, 87), Mihailovic (Zouhir, 87) - Quioto (Kamara, 75)

Santos: Acevedo - Campos (Andrade, 73), Rodríguez, Pizzichillo (Medina, 67), Govea - Gorriarán, Games (Rivas, 46), Cervantes (Suarez, 46) - Lozano (Ocejo, 67), Preciado, Aguirre.

Match Officials:
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)