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CF Montreal blows two-goal lead, draws New York Red Bulls 2-2

MONTREAL — CF Montreal was cruising, seemingly in control, up two goals at halftime. Then the home side let its guard down — and the New York Red Bulls took full advantage.
CF Montreal forward Kwadwo Opoku (7) scores against the New York Red Bulls as Red Bulls defender Noah Eile (3) looks on during first half MLS soccer action in Montreal, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — CF Montreal was cruising, seemingly in control, up two goals at halftime. Then the home side let its guard down — and the New York Red Bulls took full advantage.

Red Bulls forward Julian Hall scored the equalizer in 88th minute as Montreal blew its lead to draw 2-2 on Wednesday night at Saputo Stadium.

"It's definitely hard when you have the game almost in the bag,” said midfielder Nathan Saliba, who served as Montreal’s captain for the match. “Unfortunately this feels like a loss.”

The 16-year-old Hall headed the ball into the net off a corner for his first Major League Soccer goal after Wikelman Carmona scored earlier in the second half for New York (8-4-7), which dominated the shot attempts 24 to 10.

Sunusi Ibrahim and Kwadwo Opoku scored in the first half to help Montreal (4-7-7) build the lead before an announced 19,619 fans on a humid, 31 C night. Despite the result, Montreal remains unbeaten in its last five games (1-0-4).

There was little consolation for head coach Laurent Courtois post-game.

"It's never won, it's never won," Courtois said of the squandered lead. "With the game plan we had and the substitutes we were going to put in at halftime, I really thought we were going to secure a third goal.

“I thought we were mature enough now to tell ourselves we promise not to concede in this manner and we would stay smart, but we didn't, so there's a lot of disappointment."

Leading 2-1, Montreal had a great chance to score an insurance goal in the 80th minute when forward Matias Coccaro went on a breakaway before Red Bulls defender Noah Elie knocked him down in the box.

Coccaro dropped hard to the ground after receiving some light contact in an apparent attempt to draw a penalty instead of attempting a shot on goal, but officials didn’t whistle for a foul.

Courtois acknowledged that the game moves fast, but said he expected a different decision from his striker.

"I'm not sure there's that much contact,” Courtois said. “You have to make a split-second decision, full speed, it's not easy. I don't know if it's that clear of a call, I thought he was gonna take the shot.”

The failure to capitalize came back to haunt Montreal as Hall converted the equalizer eight minutes later.

Montreal started with all the momentum as Ibrahim opened the scoring in the 11th minute, finishing a pinball sequence of headers after a free kick by Raheem Edwards.

Opoku, who recently returned from a three-month absence with an ankle injury, broke out with a beautiful goal in the 40th minute to make it 2-0 before halftime.

He danced around Red Bulls defender John Tolkin and slotted a clean finish past goalkeeper Ryan Meara at the near post.

Montreal’s good energy changed in the second half as the high-pressing Red Bulls began wreaking havoc in the home side’s half.

"The first half we were pretty good, we respected the game plan,” Saliba said. “Then in the second half … we just started getting too comfortable and losing balls we shouldn't in places where it could be very dangerous.”

In the 59th minute, Red Bulls defender Sean Nealis headed the ball over Montreal 'keeper Jonathan Sirois from a crowd of players at the centre of the box, only for Ibrahim to fly in and save a goal.

New York got on the board two minutes later when Carmona gathered a loose ball in the box and buried a shot into the top left corner, setting up Hall’s equalizer.

“We have to be more solid,” Saliba said. “It's a time where the away team is going to push to get a result and this is where we need to be stronger, and if we were able to get a third goal, I think we're in a better spot."

Edwards returned to action after a knee laceration earlier in the month. Former league MVP Josef Martinez (knee) was also back for his first match since the home opener on April 13 as Montreal's roster continues to return to health.

The Red Bulls entered the game third in the Eastern Conference, 12 points ahead of Montreal, but fell short of a win for a third straight outing with some key players absent.

Top scorer Lewis Morgan is representing Scotland at the European Championship and starting goalkeeper Carlos Coronel will play for Paraguay at the Copa America. Swedish star Emil Forsberg missed his third straight game with a foot injury.

For Montreal, midfielders Mathieu Choiniere (Canada) and Samuel Piette (Canada), defender Joel Waterman (Canada) and winger Ariel Lassiter (Costa Rica) were on international duty at the Copa America, which begins Thursday when Canada meets Argentina in Atlanta.


Montreal: Visits Colorado Rapids on Saturday.

New York: Hosts Toronto FC on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2024.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press