Columbus Crew head coach Caleb Porter has described Saturday’s visit from Eastern Conference rivals CF Montreal as a “defining” fixture for his side.
The Crew have picked up four points against New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution in their last two games to remain in the hunt for an MLS Cup Playoffs spot.
However, Columbus is four points adrift of the top seven and is running out of games to bridge that gap as it prepares to take on fifth-placed Montreal at Lower.com Field.
While Porter is confident about nailing down a playoff spot, the 46-year-old accepts that his side will need to put together a strong run of form in the closing weeks of the campaign.
“We have to be really smart about taking each game. We have a massive game that is important to us if we are to make the playoffs,” he said. “I’m excited; this is why you coach. It’s the time of the year that defines who you are as a player and a coach.
“It’s a home game with Montreal and we want to make it three wins in a row here. We’re in good form at home and want to keep that momentum going. We strongly believe we’ll make the playoffs but we need points and that starts with a good Montreal team.”
Montreal has won its last two MLS games and saw off HFX Wanderers 3-1 in its midweek Canadian Championship quarterfinal clash.
In the middle of a three-game week, Wilfried Nancy fielded a heavily rotated side and Ballou Tabla made the most of his first appearance of the year by scoring two late goals.
Tabla may now come into Nancy’s thoughts for playing time in the league, but the academy product still has some work to do if he is to fully win over his head coach.
“It’s not easy to be a professional footballer, it takes professionalism,” Nancy said. “I’m not saying he was unprofessional before, but it takes that. He must show consistency in his work and in his performance. He needs to look forward and focus on continuing to improve.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Columbus Crew – Evan Bush
Despite struggling with an injury, Eloy Room produced six saves – including a late double stop in the closing stages – to earn the Crew an unexpected point against the Revs. Room has been ruled out of Saturday’s match, though, meaning Bush likely coming in for a third league appearance of 2021. He has conceded two goals across those previous two games.
CF Montreal – Djordje Mihailovic
Rommel Quioto has been Montreal’s go-to man of late with four goals in his last five appearances, but he has Mihailovic to thank for that impressive scoring streak. United States international Mihailovic has set up each of those Quioto goals and has 11 assists to his name overall in 2021, behind only New England Revolution’s Carles Gil (16).
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Since the start of the 2015 season, no Eastern Conference team other than Inter Miami CF (one meeting) has averaged more points per match against the Crew in regular season play than CF Montreal (1.62 – W6 D3 L4).
– The Crew have won just four of their last 18 MLS matches (D5 L9), totaling 17 points dating back to late June. Only five teams have fewer points than the defending MLS Cup Champions since the start of matchday nine (June 22).
– After a four-match road losing streak from July 21 to August 8, Montreal is unbeaten in three straight on the road (W1 D2). The last time Montreal played four straight road matches without defeat was in April-June 2017 (W1 D3), a streak that ended with a 4-1 loss at Columbus.
– The Crew have attempted 6.2 shots per match inside the box this season, only Toronto FC (6.1) have attempted fewer. A league-low 55.8 percent of the shots Columbus has attempted in 2021 have been taken from inside the penalty area.
– Quioto has scored four times in his last five appearances, including finding the net in each of the last two matches. Quioto had not found the net in any of his previous eight MLS appearances dating back to April.