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CF Montréal players relish return to Saputo Stadium

"We've basically played our whole season away and finally have a home game in front of our supporters," midfielder Djordje Mihailovic says.

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American striker Mason Toye has been a member of CF Montréal since last October, but never has played a game in the city.

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“I’ve never actually played for Montreal in Montreal,” Toye quipped during a video conference this week. “This will be the first time, and I’m excited. I knew it would happen at some point. I’m excited to play some games and score in front of these awesome fans.”

On Wednesday, the organization announced that Saturday’s game (7:30 p.m., TVA Sports, TSN Radio-690, 91.9 FM) against FC Cincinnati would be played at its Saputo Stadium facility after provincial health authorities last week announced the club could return to Canada and resume training at Centre Nutrilait.

The match will be the first time since last September CFM has played on its own pitch and, although attendance will be limited to 5,000 spectators, members of the organization haven’t masked their pleasure to finally return to a sense of normalcy.

Earlier this week before a training session, manager Wilfried Nancy and the players were greeted by front-office members — including president Kevin Gilmore — as they arrived for training, while Thursday’s session was conducted at Saputo.

“It’s nice to wake up in your own bed and go to training,” Toye said. “Not bus to training, bus back and go to the hotel. It’s great to be in a stable place. Being in Montreal helps a lot on the mental side of things. I can drive to training and cook my own food.”

Fellow American midfielder Djordje Mihailovic also is embracing the opportunity. Although he has played in Montreal previously as a member of Chicago, he went from national team duties to Florida last winter after his trade from the Fire.

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“It’s very important to keep our emotions at a steady state,” he said Friday. “We’ve basically played our whole season away and finally have a home game in front of our supporters. It’s very important for us to go in with that mindset and not get too overwhelmed with the situation. It’s another game.”

According to a published report, four unidentified Cincinnati players not fully vaccinated are expected to miss the game. Earlier this week, manager Jaap Stam, the former Manchester United defender, said he had a strong opinion on playing in Canada — the match was originally scheduled for DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., CFM’s base this season — before adding the time wasn’t right to express his feelings.

CF Montréal (5-3-4) has been idle since July 7, when it produced a come-from-behind 2-1 victory against New York City FC. The team is in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and is riding a four-game undefeated streak. Cincinnati (3-5-3) sits 11th in the East and has allowed 20 goals this season. It also is undefeated in its last four contests, including a pair of clean-sheet victories.

CFM has never defeated Cincinnati since it joined Major League Soccer in 2019. That included a come-from-behind 2-1 victory on May 22 in Fort Lauderdale.

“We had no business losing that game,” Toye said.

Mihailovic intimated some of his teammates might have taken the result for granted two months ago. “When we played them the first time and they were at the bottom of the table, that doesn’t mean they’re a bad team and it was going to be an easy win. Maybe in that game some guys thought that.”

Meanwhile, CFM defender Kiki Struna is unavailable, Nancy stated. According to a published report, Struna is about to join Italian club U.S. Salernitana.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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