CF Montreal will play the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League quarter-final series against Cruz Azul on Wednesday.
The Canadian team is no stranger to Liga MX rivals, defeating Santos Laguna 3-1 on aggregate in the previous round. But this time, it won’t be as easy.
As opposed to 15th-place Santos Laguna, Cruz Azul currently sit in fifth in the Liga MX table, with 14 points in nine games and a record of 4-2-3. Montreal also faces the daunting challenge of visiting the Estadio Azteca, one of the sport’s biggest and most historic venues.
"It's a different team. Obviously we knew that Santos was struggling to start the year, so Cruz Azul is obviously in a different place, a really strong team. I'm not saying that Santos isn't, but it's almost a different beast altogether," Montréal defender Alistair Johnston said.
"Obviously playing at the Azteca, it's a different atmosphere than any other I've played in before. It truly is something that you need to have played in to really understand. The altitude plays a huge factor.
"Obviously playing in front of a crowd, they really know how to make that place loud and it's such a historic stadium. You walk in there and you can instantly feel, you can just sense the history and number of matches and all-time great players throughout history that have played on this pitch."
Beyond the victory over Santos Laguna, CF Montreal has seen a difficult start to their 2022 campaign. The Canadian side has yet to see a win in Major League Soccer, losing their first two matches and scoring only one goal thus far.
While head coach Wilfried Nancy understands the gravity of Wednesday’s match and the team’s current state, he’s pushing for a ‘stronger’ performance.
"What I want to see is my team play the way we usually play, knowing that we're going to have bad moments, knowing that playing against a Mexican team is going to be difficult. We know that because the tendency of the Mexican teams is being really aggressive," he said.
"They try to press, they try to play with a high level of intensity. We'll have to match the intensity and we're going to have to be[focused when they have the ball. We know if we have the ball, we have the possibility to do something good," Nancy said.
"We have to be stronger than the last couple of games, but we need to play our game. This is going to be my message for the players. We know the context is going to be difficult, yes, but play our game, play the way we play and try to match the intensity."