Montréal's sold-out crowd of 19,619 were treated to a wildly entertaining PK-shootout win for the hometown team after a 2-2 draw that featured multiple dustups (some during and one after the match), as well as an improbable Pumas comeback to force PKs in the first place.
“It was an amazing atmosphere. To be honest with all of you, I really didn’t expect that energy and fire coming from the stands. It was really amazing,” said Montréal head coach Hernan Losada. “I think also for the fans, to them, the energy on the field was present and was contagious. And I think it’s a fantastic initiative, this Leagues Cup.
“The fact that we have the chance to mix it up between Canadian teams, American teams and Mexican teams, it’s fantastic for the future. It brings a lot of attraction and a lot of emotion.”
Losada’s side started the first half brightly, dominating the midfield thanks in part to a particularly strong showing from Bryce Duke, the young American midfielder who was brought in (alongside Ariel Lassiter) in a massive early-season trade with Inter Miami CF. Duke not only scored MTL’s opener on the night (assisted by Lassiter) via a beautiful curling effort from outside the box, but he also controlled the center of the park – a trend that did not go unnoticed by Pumas head coach Antonio Mohamed.
“Duke – was Duke his name? First half, he made it hard for us in that part of the pitch,” said Mohamed, who cited a halftime tactical adjustment as a key factor in swinging momentum back to his side after heading into the break down 2-0 on goals from Duke and Mathieu Choinière.
But even with Pumas growing into the match, Montréal seemed to remain in control, carrying their two-goal cushion past the 85th minute. Then, Gabriel Fernández scored a stunning scissor-kick in the 88th to put Losada’s squad on their heals, and Emanuel Montejano completed the comeback three minutes later, finishing off a sequence that started with a shot from César Huerta, who was immense on the night.
Losada's side would not be denied though, going a flawless 4-for-4 on PKs in front of their raucous supporters’ group to salvage two points from the match (the amount allotted for a PK win in the Leagues Cup group stage).
“It was a shame to have finished with a draw because I think we did deserve the three points,” reflected Losada.
Still, despite the disappointment of a dropped point, Montréal's head coach felt positive about the implications of his team’s performance against a strong Liga MX side.
“We have a young team, the third youngest team in MLS. With many young guys that are still developing and taking their first steps as pros,” said Losada. “So as you can imagine, I feel very proud to see them play this way against players of the caliber of Pumas, and Liga MX is very good, very strong league with great potential. But I think that the MLS has caught up very well and hopefully we'll be able to reach that level and perhaps surpass it."