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CF Montreal prepares to host New York Red Bulls under extreme heat

CF Montreal forward Kwadwo Opoku jumps for the ball during first half MLS soccer action against FC Cincinnati in Montreal, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. Opoku isn’t complaining as CF Montreal prepares to host the New York Red Bulls on a scorching hot Wednesday at Saputo Stadium.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — Forward Kwadwo Opoku isn’t complaining as CF Montreal gears up for a meeting with the New York Red Bulls under scorching-hot conditions Wednesday at Saputo Stadium.

Environment Canada issued a heat warning as temperatures reach daily highs of 35 C and rise above 40 with the humidex amid a hot spell from Tuesday through Thursday in Quebec.

But Ghana international Opoku will take that over the frigid weather Montreal is better known for.

"I love this weather. The other times — January, February, oh goodness. December? Oh, it's the worst, I do not like it at all,” Opoku said Tuesday before practice. “But this one is really good. The sun is shining.”

First-year head coach Laurent Courtois said his approach won’t change when he manages his team under the extreme weather. For now, Courtois’s focus is on helping his forwards bury their chances instead of game-planning ways to beat the heat.

After a difficult stretch from mid-April through most of May, Montreal (4-7-6, 10th in the Eastern Conference) is unbeaten in four Major League Soccer games heading into the matchup against New York (8-4-6, third in the Eastern Conference).

Three of four matches, however, were draws. That includes a 0-0 result at home to Western Conference-leading Real Salt Lake last Saturday as Montreal failed to score on 11 shot attempts.

“Not capitalizing on strong chances often turns against you. In these games, we managed not to concede in a catastrophic way, but the reality is if you don't capitalize on those moments, you drop points and are never safe in a game,” Courtois said. “It's really damaging and we’re trying to intensify, rework, and get everyone on the same page, which would help us score that first goal.

“We think that could trigger other things too, especially at home.”

With a recent influx of offensive talent returning to Montreal’s lineup, forward Mason Toye believes an offensive outburst is coming.

“We have so many attacking weapons and we create so many chances,” he said. “It's just about having it click, and once we do get it to click we're going to be a super dangerous team. I'm excited for when that happens, hopefully that happens on Wednesday."

Opoku, Toye, Matias Coccaro and Lassi Lappalainen returned to action Saturday after long absences due to injury. Josef Martinez (knee) did not feature against Salt Lake but is expected to take the pitch soon.

Midfielders Mathieu Choiniere and Samuel Piette are on international duty with Canada for the Copa America. Defender Joel Waterman joins them as a late call-up, replacing injured winger Junior Hoilett. Winger Ariel Lassiter is also away to play for Costa Rica in the tournament, which begins Thursday when Canada meets Argentina.

Meanwhile, the Red Bulls are down some of their best players. Top scorer Lewis Morgan is gone to the European Championship with Scotland while starting goalkeeper Carlos Coronel plays for Paraguay at the Copa America.

Swedish star Emil Forsberg is also questionable Wednesday with a foot injury. New York lost 1-0 at New England Revolution on June 8 before playing to a 0-0 draw at home against Nashville SC last Saturday without Forsberg in the lineup.

Head coach Sandro Schwarz believes the Red Bulls showed well versus Nashville in a match that featured two disallowed New York goals. He expects players to keep stepping up while the stars are absent.

“Emil, Lewis and Carlos, they are important players for us. But for me, it's important not to lose the energy and to think about, “Oh, how would we play with these key players?’” Schwarz said. “This is now the situation and our job is to find the best solutions with our roster.”

Despite their 12-point gap in the standings, the Red Bulls aren’t taking their meeting with Montreal lightly.

"It's always a tough test playing up in Montreal. It's a little different atmosphere, the crowd's always energetic and behind them,” defender Sean Nealis said. “I think we’ve got to bring our best.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2024.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press

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