MONTREAL — CF Montreal took another step toward the Major League Soccer post-season, securing a decisive 4-1 win over the Portland Timbers at Stade Saputo on Saturday.
Sunusi Ibrahim (28th minute), Mahala Opoku (35th), Mathieu Choinière (64th) and Mason Toye (75th) scored for Montreal (12-16-5), which handed Portland (11-12-10) its first loss in seven MLS matches.
The win ends Montreal’s winless run of seven games, which tied the longest mark in club history.
“Everyone in the group wanted to show that we’re better than what the last seven games have indicated,” said coach Hernan Losada. “It’s great that we got to focus on the forwards tonight, because we haven’t done that much this season, but it’s important to remember that games like this are a group effort.”
Montreal has made a habit of beginning its homes games on the front foot with lots of energy, and this match was no different. A different formation from its usual 3-5-2 as a 3-4-3 layout allowed Montreal to dominate the flanks and the half-spaces with their pace.
That all came to a head right before the half-hour mark when Opoku was played in behind on the right. He then found Ibrahim with a simple pass across the goal area, leaving a comfortable tap-in to give Montreal the lead.
“This is a position that I’ve played since I was a kid, so I’ve gotten attached to that position,” said Opoku who played at his preferred right wing until he was substituted out for the first time since arriving in Montreal. “Every time I’m there I try my best to have fun and it was amazing how everybody stuck together.”
With momentum on their side, Montreal continued the high pressing that had worked so well and scored a second goal just seven minutes later. This time it was Ibrahim’s turn to provide Opoku, laying off a pass at the top of the penalty area that the Ghanean forward fired home after it was deflected into the left corner.
As the second half began and Portland looked for a way back into the match, Montreal opted to sit a bit deeper, biding its time and looking for an opportunity on the counter. That opportunity materialized just after the hour mark.
In the 65th minute, Choinière received the ball outside the penalty area. After noticing that goalkeeper David Bigham was out of position in anticipation for a cross, he opted to shoot, catching everyone off guard and adding a third goal on the evening.
The game was a rare display of the level of finishing that had been avoiding Montreal for the majority of the season. Despite a strong home record, many points were lost due to a lack of finish in the final third that was shown this game.
“I’m super happy with the group. It was great not just to win, but to win in this way, it was a very complete performance,” said Losada. “Imagine all the points we’d have if could score like this all the time, but it’s still not over.”
Montreal added a fourth 10 minutes later when Toye would hunt down a rebound and scored from a tight angle.
Franck Boli added a consolation goal for Portland in the 85th minute.
“We all knew how important this game was for the playoffs and to get us in a good position so we’re just all really happy with how it went,” said Choinière. “We came into the game on the front foot and with the right mentality. I think that energy was contagious and just motivated everyone to go out there and do the right things.”
The result leaves Montreal with 41 points, currently enough for eighth place in the MLS Eastern Conference. Who qualifies for the post-season will go down to the wire as there are currently six teams within three points of one another.
Following a two-week international break, all eyes will be on Decision Day on Oct. 21 as Montreal travels to Columbus to face the Crew while Portland plays host to the Houston Dynamo.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2023.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press