CF Montreal took on Santos Laguna in the 2nd leg of their CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 action on Wednesday. Here’s our report from that one.
Revenge was on the menu in Montreal on Wednesday.
Facing off against a Santos Laguna side that once broke their hearts in the CONCACAF Champions League over a decade ago, CF Montreal were looking to avenge those demons with a big performance in Round of 16 Champions League action at the Stade Olympique on Wednesday.
Entering the second leg of this tie, having already visited Santos last week, a stiff task awaited Montreal, as they entered this game looking to turn around a 1-0 deficit, having lost 1-0 in Mexico 8 days prior.
But with the fire in their bellies from that loss 13 years earlier back in 2009, where they lost to two late goals, along with the fire of losing to another late goal in that first leg, Montreal was ready to make sure that late goals wouldn’t be the story of this match, either.
Plus, with the game having been delayed a day due to the weather in the city, which saw the game unable to be played on Tuesday given the state of the Stade Olympique’s roof, that fire had an extra day to burn, too.
And that fire was fully on display in this game, as Montreal roared out to a big 3-0 victory, one that ensured they’d qualify to the Quarter-Finals of this competition, scoring early and often in this one.
Despite the pressure of facing a struggling Santos side, making Montreal the favourites to win, they overcame that with ease, putting together a vintage Stade Olympique Champions League performance for the 13 000 and change in attendance.
“We said we’d go for it, I’m happy with the result,” Montreal coach, Wilfried Nancy, said in French of the game afterwards. “The work that the players put on the field gave them the result we deserved.”
“We got one here over a team that broke our club’s heart a long time back,” Montreal midfielder, Djordje Mihailovic, later added. “And now we can focus on the MLS season”
Now, with their MLS season set to get going this weekend, it puts them in strong form ahead of what lies ahead for them in that competition, all while keeping their journey alive in this one.
Facing a tough deficit, they found a way to turn it around in clutch fashion, showing great resolve in a gritty performance.
But heading into the game, long before the moments of joy, that 1-goal lead loomed a lot larger than it did in hindsight, as Montreal needed at least 1 to bring the game to penalties, and more to ensure victory, all without talking about the threat of a potential Santos away goal completing turning the tie on its head.
In fact, knowing that Montreal needed at least a goal to get back into the tie, one could only wonder what version of Montreal they’d see on Wednesday.
Would it be the one that won the Canadian Championship last fall to earn this Champions League berth? Or would it be the one that largely frustrated onlookers before falling late to Santos last week?
And the good news is that right out of the gates, it looked to be more of the former.
Right from the opening whistle, Montreal looked very up for this contest, as they looked to show that they didn’t want their Champions League dreams to die quite yet.
They looked a lot sharper in possession, were up for the task defensively, and just overall looked like a team that was ready to take the game to a struggling Santos that sits 18th out of 18 in the Liga MX Clausura table for a reason.
Thanks to that, they’d find the goal that they’d need to knot things up right in the 10th minute.
After some physical play in the midfield, they managed to funnel the ball out to Mathieu Choiniere in space, and from there, the Canadian put his head up and whipped in a ball that curled right behind the Santos backline, sitting right at the edge of the penalty spot.
Then, that’s where popped up Romell Quioto, who pounced first on that ball, managed to take it around the goalkeeper in one touch, and despite having hardly any net to shoot at, buried it off the post from a sharp angle.
With that, it sent the home crowd into a rapture of applause, as they knew what that goal meant, as their team was right back in the tie with plenty of time to spare.
Plus, with it coming off of the foot of Quioto, someone who struggled a lot with injury last year, that was an added bonus, too, as he’s got a good reputation around North America for a reason, and he showed why on the goal.
“We know his qualities, he has to be healthy to have these sorts of performances,” Nancy said. “That’s the Romell that we know, I’m happy”
And while there was a lot to like with Quioto’s early goal from an individual perspective, from a team one, Montreal would just be getting started, too.
Less than 15 minutes after they opened the scoring, they then doubled their lead in the 23rd minute, putting them ahead on aggregate.
This time, it’d be the man who finished the last action, Quioto, who’d turn provider, as he did well to find Djordje Mihailovic running late into the box. Then, Mihailovic did the rest, as he’d push the ball onto his left foot on the left side, before ripping a shot, one that’d slam off of the bottom of the crossbar and in.
It was a dream start for Montreal, who knew what lay ahead of them, made sure to get out to the races early, then putting them in the position that they needed to in order to chase a result. With 65 minutes to go, it’d be too early to say if they’d hold that position, of course, but it’s a lot better to defend a lead in these sorts of ties than to chase it, and after finding themselves in the worse of those two positions just 20 minutes earlier, they’d done well to find a way to turn things around the way they did.
Plus, considering that they seemed on the verge of adding to their lead, which they almost did in the 45th minute when Mathieu Choiniere rang a thunderous volley off of the crossbar after a corner, it felt inevitable that they’d cruise to victory.
And to start the second half, they’d continue to show why that was the case.
First, Quioto came close just minutes into the half, after a nice ball from Mihailovic, before Ismael Kone, the 19-year-old making his debut in all competitions for CF Montreal’s first team, saw himself just saved by Santos’s Carlos Acevedo on a chipped attempt from a breakaway.
The chances would keep on coming after that, too, as Kamal Miller then got a look off of a curled Mihailovic set-piece, but his header would just be kept out by Acevedo.
But as the half wore on, you could only wonder if Montreal would be left to woe a bunch of what-ifs, or if that third goal would ever come.
And then came the 60th minute. There, after a bit of magic from Joaquin Torres, he did well to find Mihailovic, who as he’d been doing so well throughout the game, found himself in a dangerous pocket in the box.
From that position, the rest looked almost easy, as Mihailovic then squared a ball across the box, where Kone ran right onto it, and the youngster made no mistake this time, ripping home the shot for his first-ever pro goal.
With that, not only had the crowd gotten yet another goal to cheer about, but really got to see the tie all but wrapped up, too, as Montreal just seemed to be on another level in this game.
So from there, it was no surprise that they’d go on and cruise to a straightforward victory, wrapping up their progression to the quarter-finals of this competition. Plus, not only that, but they also exercised those famed Santos Laguna demons, all while adding another chapter to the club’s pretty impressive history in the Champions League.
“I know the club is happy,” Nancy said. “It’s a pride to be able to win this game, I’ve seen the emotions that this club has for the Champions League.”
He also cheekily added: “I’m happy that we were able to get one back over a Santos Laguna team that once got one over us.”
That history, of course, is yet to include a Champions League victory, and while they’d still have 3 stages to go if they are to make that a reality now, you definitely can’t dream of winning it if you’re eliminated, so the fact that they’re still going is a bonus.
Now, a tough test could await them, as barring a surprise Forge FC come back from the Champions League debutants at the Azteca, Montreal will likely take on Liga MX Cruz Azul on the next leg, but having already taken down one Liga MX side with ease here, they’ll be hungry for the next challenge.
Because of that, you can’t help but be intrigued by what lies ahead for Montreal now here. As they look to navigate the challenges of this Champions League journey, all while trying to snap a lengthy playoff drought in MLS, this isn’t going to be the last ‘big’ game of this season.
Plus, the fact that as seen by this game, where they managed to put out 5 Canadians to start the game (something they also did in the first leg), before bringing several more off of the bench, they’ve become a team to watch from a Canadian National Team perspective, as well.
Considering that over the last 15 or so years in which there have been Canadian teams in MLS, neither Montreal, nor their fellow Canadian compatriots in Toronto and Vancouver, have really invested in Canadian talent on a grand scale, this is a big change to see.
So seeing that Montreal isn’t just investing in those Canadian players, but are now thriving in big games with them, is huge, and is just part of the reason why the Montreal project remains an interesting one.
And that’s why they’ll be not just hoping that this is just the beginning of what’s to come, but are expecting it, one game at a time, with this match just being the first stepping stone in that journey.
“This is the way that we want to attack all of the games, we did that well today,” Nancy finished. “This was our team today, we want to score goals, win games.”
Cover Photo via: CONCACAF