NYCFC set to battle CF Montréal in Eastern Conference semifinals

New York City Football Club continue our defense of the MLS Cup with a Conference Semifinal trip to CF Montréal on Sunday.

Here are the Keys to the Match, presented by Ford...

On The Road Again

If City are to book a place in the Eastern Conference Final, we will have to negotiate a tough trip to Stade Saputo.

With the prospect of travel, unfamiliar surroundings, a vocal home crowd, and the hosts' own momentum, with Le CFMTL also having finished the regular season strongly, NYCFC must have no fear, blocking out all outside noise and focusing on the on-pitch action.

Possessing plenty of experience on the road, Nick Cushing and his players assert there are no plans to approach this game any differently.

In addition to some of the impressive wins on our travels this year, the squad will take heart from the way in which they handled three away games en route to MLS Cup glory in 2021 with all of the challenging components that come with entering opposition territory.

"We just have to prepare like we do for any away game," Cushing said. "We went away to Minnesota this year, DC United, Dallas, Red Bulls, Atlanta United... these are difficult places to go and we won football games.

"Of course, it's a playoff game, of course, the atmosphere will be electric and Montreal are a top, top team. The coach has done an incredible job with them this year.

"We have to just prepare for a really difficult game and if we can repeat what we've done on the road this year, and what we did in the playoffs last year, it will give us the best chance of winning the game."

Right Here, Right Now

The deeper the playoff journey, the higher the stakes and the more intense the pressure.

As the post-season tournament edges closer to its thrilling finale, the excitement naturally builds - dreams of trophy lifts and champagne celebrations sharpen into focus.

But the secret to achieving those dreams... is not to think about them!

While players, staff and fans are of course driven by their desire for success, focusing too much on the end goal can distract you from the task at hand.

Though Cushing laughed that it has become somewhat of a soccer cliché, the practice of channeling your concentration solely onto the next game has proven to be a winning formula for New York, and successful teams around the world.

A Semifinal Showdown

Sunday's encounter sees second and third place in the regular season Eastern Conference standings lock horns.

It was noted in the pre-match media that US-based teams have a frustrating record of playoff matches in Canada, winning only two of 13 - but that will certainly not faze Cushing and co.

Form and the outcomes of previous fixtures mean nothing in the playoffs - anything can happen, at any time, anywhere.

It's one of the reasons the sport is beloved around the world - for its drama and unpredictability - but for those who take heart from good omens, New York do hold a strong record against Montréal, winning nine and drawing five of our all-time encounters.

Of those meetings, we are unbeaten in all bar one of the seven played in Canada, including July's hard-fought 0-0 draw, having also won our previous two clashes 4-1 and 1-0.

Both sides head into the tie in fine form - City unbeaten since mid-September and Montréal since the end of August - and both sides recorded comfortable wins in Round One against Inter Miami CF and Orlando City respectively.

Like NYCFC, the Canadians like to play the ball on the floor with Wilfried Nancy favoring a 3-5-2 formation. As two possession-based teams face-off, the stage is set for an interesting match-up and meeting of minds.

Should he feature, the Boys in Blue will need to be wary of frontman Romell Quioto, who has 15 goals to his name this term, as well as playmaker Djordje Mihailovic, who has clocked two goals and two assists in his last two games.