CF Montreal continue playoff push against visiting Chicago Fire

MONTREAL — After a two-week international break, CF Montreal is set to resume its playoff push with a Saturday showdown with the Chicago Fire at Stade Saputo

Chicago (8-11-8) limps into the match on a five-game losing streak but still only trails eighth-placed CF Montreal (11-14-2) by three points in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference standings.

The top nine teams qualify for the post-season and there is only a seven-point gap between Montreal and Inter Miami, who sit in 14th place. All points are crucial now.

“This is a very important game for the future of this team and our objectives, and I know that we will have a very prepared team,” said head coach Hernan Losada. “The circumstances are very different from the last time we played since it was a while ago. We know their players individually, but we don’t know about what kind of gameplan they will bring so we need to focus on our game.”

The Fire won the last meeting between the two teams 3-0 on July 13.

Chicago jumped to a three-goal lead within the first 35 minutes and then dropped into a low block for remainder of the game.

Montreal possessed the ball for 62 per cent of the game but could not generate any offence.

Montreal's Achilles heel this season has been their inability to secure victories when they dominate possession. Out of the 13 matches across all competitions in which they had at least 54 per cent of the ball, they have only managed to win three times.

After their impressive victory over Montreal, Chicago's form has taken a nosedive, causing them to plummet from a playoff position.

In all competitions, the Fire have lost five consecutive games in regulation time, along with a sixth loss in a penalty shootout during the Leagues Cup, and have been outscored 13-2.

Montreal’s near impregnable home field advantage has also taken something of a hit recently. In their last seven games across all competitions, Montreal has only won twice in regulation, with a third coming in penalties.

“Since the beginning of the season, we’ve been really strong at home and I don’t see why that would change,” said midfielder Mathieu Choinière. “The crowd has been behind us which has helped us make this a real fortress, so we have to continue to get good results there.”

The international break has also seen the welcomed return of many faces at the club. After missing several months with a torn hamstring, star forward Romell Quioto has returned to training and begun working with the group.

Quioto's absence was keenly felt, as the team lacked an experienced striker to mentor a young attacking unit. Despite missing 19 out of the team's 27 regular season games this year, his tally of three goals is just one shy of the team lead.

The game will also see Kei Kamara’s first return to Montreal since his public falling out with the club and subsequent trade request.

The veteran striker, who scored nine goals in his one season with Montreal, was traded to Chicago in February in exchange for up to US$400,000 in general allocation money.

He has five goals in 24 games with the Fire.

Kickoff at Stade Saputo is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2023.

Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press