CF Montréal saw their quest for an Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs berth fall short on Decision Day.
Moments after suffering a 2-1 defeat to the Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field, coaches, players and staff huddled around an iPad on the sideline and could only watch as John Tolkin's stoppage-time penalty lifted the New York Red Bulls to a dramatic 1-0 win at Nashville SC that ended CFMTL's postseason hopes.
Instead of a second straight playoff trip, Montréal will be watching proceedings from home.
"They deserved a lot more, but this sport, soccer, is like that," head coach Hernán Losada said postgame Saturday. "We were there until the very last second, but at the end of the day, we didn't make it, and now it's about how we bounce back."
Decision Day drama
Coming into Decision Day, Montréal knew a win against Columbus would secure passage to the playoffs. But Sunusi Ibrahim's 7th-minute goal against former head coach Wilfried Nancy's current team was canceled out by Cucho Hernández 10 minutes later, and Darlington Nagbe's 50th-minute strike outside the box stood as the match-winner for the hosts.
With NYCFC's 1-0 win over Chicago Fire FC, CFMTL only needed a Red Bulls draw or loss against Nashville to finish above the playoff line despite their own loss. But Tolkin's last-gasp penalty simultaneously extended RBNY's playoff streak to 14 straight seasons (a new MLS record) and eliminated Montréal from contention.
"[We] never, never gave up until the very last minute. We were fighting even under difficult circumstances," Losada, a former D.C. United manager, said. "Yes, we have to improve, we have to do better. ... At the end, we came two points short, unfortunately. But this group gave absolutely everything, and I was thankful and very proud to be representing this organization."
"We grew a lot"
Montréal will now be forced to reflect on a disappointing campaign as a lengthy offseason begins. Last year's third-place finisher in the Supporters' Shield standings will be a non-participant in the 2023 postseason after posting a 1W-5L-3D mark in their final nine matches. They were just 2W-13L-2D away from home.
For Losada, who credited his team for "fighting" to the very last whistle, there were plenty of lessons learned in 2023 that can be applied to 2024, especially for a roster that ranked among the youngest in the league.
"I think we learned a lot this season," Losada said. "We had a lot of ups and downs, but also we had a lot of progression... we grew a lot, we learned a lot from all the many different situations that we have been going through this year.
"There are a lot of positive things, and there are also a lot of things we have to improve in order to be competitive."