Today is Match Day 22, and New York City FC are in Quebec to take on CF Montréal at Stade Saputo.
NYCFC are full of feels after saying goodbye to Taty Castellanos earlier this week. Even if his move to Europe comes as no surprise, New York City supporters have been riding an emotional cocktail of pride, joy, nostalgia, fear, and anticipation — and that was before the New York Post ran a story that Mayor Eric Adams is expected to throw his weight behind a soccer-specific stadium in Queens, and instantly become the most popular politician in NYCFC history.
All of that breaking news turned NYCFC’s professional 2-0 win over Inter Miami last week into an afterthought. It was the club’s fourth straight win and third straight clean sheet, in case you missed it.
Tonight's game is no cakewalk. The Montréal that NYCFC will face is a different team from the one that New York City defeated 4-1 back in March. This Montréal is composed and efficient, an MLS 3.0 team (to quote HRB founding editor Rafael Noboa y Rivera) with strong role players, a solid head coach in Wilfried Nancy, and a legit headliner in midfielder Djordje Mihailovic.
Still, the head-to-head stats are overwhelmingly in favor of NYCFC: Out of 15 games played New York City have won nine, drawn four, and lost only two. As NYCFC play-by-play radio announcer Glenn Crooks pointed out, New York City have never lost in Montréal — the lone away loss was held in Florida last year because of COVID protocols. In all, NYCFC have scored 28 and allowed just 13, for a goal differential of +15.
Match: NYCFC play CF Montréal
Date and Time: Saturday, July 30, 7:30 pm ET
Venue: Stade Saputo
Bruce Arena Forecast: Mild and moderately humid at kickoff, 74˚F/23˚C
Watch: YES, ESPN+ (blackouts apply)
Stream: YES App
Listen: English and Spanish broadcasts on NYCFC Radio
• Player Availability: Keaton Parks is out after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot, and both Anton Tinnerholm and Maxime Chanot are out with slight ankle sprains. Alfredo Morales is suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
• How will interim coach Nick Cushing line up now that Castellanos is gone? Héber is the obvious choice for a No 9, but he could shift Talles Magno to the middle and have Thiago on the right.
• Is Héber a 90-minute player right now? The striker is looking fitter than he did at the start of the season, but nobody expects him to be the ironman that Castellanos was.
• He could be even more creative, and have Thiago operate as a false nine — while that scenario is unlikely, Cushing has demonstrated tactical flexibility since taking over the team.
• More pressing: How will NYCFC compensate for the suspension of Morales due to yellow card accumulation? Cushing identified the midfield as in need of more depth than the attack even with the loss of Castellanos, and now a core starter won’t be on the field. Homegrown Justin Haak has been seeing regular playing time since the hard-fought road win over FC Dallas, and we shouldn’t be surprised to see him in the lineup — or even in the Starting XI.
• Montréal will be without backup midfielder Ahmed Hamdi. Midfielder Tomas Giraldo and forward Bjorn Maars-Johnsen are also injured, but neither have logged any minutes for the team this season. Montréal will basically have a full-strength squad.
• The goalkeeping question at Montréal seems to have found an answer, for now: James Pantemis has emerged as the club’s top shot-stopper, taking over for the leaky Sebastian Breza. The 25-year-old Pantemis started in the last two league games, and Montréal won both: They defeated a pre-dolce vita Toronto FC 1-0 at home and DC United 2-1 on the road.
• Pantemis helps shore up a questionable defense that has allowed 36 goals in 21 games, the fourth-most in the Eastern Conference.
• NYCFC will need to close down forward Romell Quioto to get a result. The 30-year-old Honduras international has nine goals in 19 games.
• Which Montréal will show up at Stade Saputo? The giant killers who resoundingly defeated the Seattle Sounders on the road behind two goals from 23-year-old Mason Toye back in June? Or the wasteful team that lost to Sporting Kansas City at home earlier this month?
• As of the publication of this article betting odds are moving in favor of Montréal but the slightest of edges with the home team getting a small advantage: It's going to be close. Still, Sportsbook DraftKings gives Héber the strongest chance of scoring, followed closely by Quioto, Talles Magno, Gabriel Pereira, and Mihailovic.
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UPDATE: The Starting XI was announced at 6:42 pm ET