Today is Game Day, and New York City FC will be in Quebec to face CF Montréal in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.
NYCFC played what was arguably their best game of the season on Monday when they defeated Inter Miami CF 3-0 on a rainy night at Citi Field. Not only did the team finally win a postseason game at Citi, vanquishing the bad memories of 2019’s gutting playoff loss to Toronto FC, they neutralized Alejandro Pozuelo, a playmaker who has made a career out of tormenting New York City.
Montréal are coming off a 2-0 win over Orlando City at home. The scoreline flatters Montréal: Orlando had their chances, but a 68’ goal from Canadian international Ismaël Koné put Montréal ahead, and a 90’+9’ penalty by Dorde Mihailović gave the home crowd another chance to ring that big bell.
NYCFC dominate the head-to-head between the two teams: Out of 16 games played, NYCFC are 9-4-2 with 28 goals scored and just 13 allowed. More germane, NYCFC are 1-1-0 against Montréal this season: The only two Eastern Conference teams with a winning record against Montréal in 2022 are New York City and Philadelphia Union.
Match: NYCFC at CF Montréal, 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals
Date and Time: Sunday, October 23, 1 pm ET
Venue: Stade Saputo
Bruce Arena Forecast: Clear, light breeze, unseasonably warm, 61˚F/16˚C
Listen: English and Spanish broadcasts on NYCFC Radio
• Player availability: Talles Magno was back in training after suffering an injury in the Decision Day win over Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and will be available to play. Tayvon Gray, who injured his foot in that same game, has been ruled questionable for Montreal, but Alfredo Morales is still recovering from a calf injury has been ruled out.
• By this point, we all know how interim head coach Nick Cushing will line up his team: Expect a 3-4-3 with a back three of Maxime Chanot, Alex Callens, and Thiago Martins. NYCFC are 5-0-0 since Cushing started using a back three, with 11 goals scored and just two goals allowed. We’ll do the math for you: That works out to NYCFC letting in just one goal every 225 minutes.
• You could see NYCFC’s on-field chemistry in that Miami game, and the team goal that Maxi Moralez finished after a 19-pass sequence is now the stuff of legend. We spoke to Cushing about the goal, and he gives credit to the interplay between Santiago Rodríguez and Gabriel Pereira: “I think Santi and Gabby have really, really built a rapport and that feeds into everybody else. They’re so technical, and so dynamic. The Miami goal is a real recognition of the work that they have put in as individuals.” You can read the full interview here.
• One cause of concern: The referee is Drew Fischer. The Canadian officiated Toronto’s 2-1 win over NYCFC, in which he overturned his own decision to give New York City a penalty after Talles Magno was tripped in the box. The call was so erroneous that the Professional Referee Organization issued an official statement acknowledging that Fischer was dead wrong: There is no doubt that NYCFC should have been awarded a penalty. We’re not going to put on our tinfoil hats and think that there’s some Canadian conspiracy afoot, but the decision to give him this assignment is a little suspect.
• NYCFC are 8-3-5 in league play against teams that made it to the MLS Cup Playoffs; Montréal are 5-3-8. Montréal might have home field advantage in this game, but they play better away from Stade Saputo. They’re just 2-2-4 at home against playoff teams in league games.
• Montréal are the Cinderella story of 2022. A mid-market team with an aging talisman in Victor Wanyama and one legitimate star in Mihailović, Montréal stunned the league by surging up the table to second place — and threatening to overtake Philadelphia for a hot minute. Give credit to head coach Wilfried Nancy for getting the most out the role players who fill the team’s roster.
• Expect Nancy to use the 3-5-2 formation that he developed in the middle of the season, and that has been the foundation of the team’s exceptional form. Nancy floods the midfield with Alistair Johnson and Samuel Piette on the right, Koné and Lassi Lappalainen, and Wanyama pulling the strings in the center. You can read more about Nancy and his tactics in our Scouting Report.
• There are no glaring weaknesses in the Montréal squad: They are a balanced and disciplined team. The defense are solid, the midfield are dynamic, Mihailović is one of the best players in MLS, and they have a proven goalscorer in the 38-year-old Kei Kamara.
• Canadian international Piette always tucks in his shirt, and we’re completely on board with his youth-league-benchwarmer look.
• Stade Saputo is a small and loud, and the fans in Montréal sont fous. When Montréal scores, the supporters ring a 1,500-pound bell they have miked to the sound system, and it’s really annoying. Let’s hope it remains silent tomorrow.
UPDATE: The Starting XI was announced at 12:25 pm ET