NYCFC down Montreal to keep title defense alive

Maxi Moralez and Heber each scored their second goals of the playoffs before halftime and New York City FC cruised to a 3-1 victory at CF Montreal in the MLS Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday afternoon.

Talles Magno added a second-half penalty kick for defending MLS Cup champion NYCFC, who have won five games in a row stretching back to the regular season.

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Santi Rodriguez provided an assist on Heber's goal just before halftime as third-seeded NYCFC ensured an Eastern Conference final rematch against the top-seeded Philadelphia Union.

"We had a lot of momentum," NYCFC manager Nick Cushing said after the match. "The last two playoff games have shown two sides to our game. Against [Inter] Miami, we were dominant. Against Montreal, we played on the counterattack.

"We showed that we can suffer and defend the box. I think that gives everybody a lift because as long as we play in the moment, we have a good chance against anybody."

NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson made seven saves, many of those coming in the first half when Montreal was threatening with the ball. Those early Montreal chances mostly came after NYCFC defender Maxime Chanot departed in the 14th minute with an apparent left leg injury.

Djordje Mihailovic eventually scored a late consolation goal for Montreal, which lost for the first time in seven games after a season in which they finished only two points behind Philadelphia for the top place in the East.

NYCFC players celebrate after scoring a goal against Montreal in the MLS Cup playoffs.
NYCFC players celebrate after scoring a goal against Montreal in the MLS Cup playoffs.
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Kei Kamara and Ismael Kone came closest to scoring first-half equalizers for Montreal, which conceded goals on the first two NYCFC shots.

On Montreal's opening goal, Gabriel Pereira and Santiago Rodriguez played a give-and-go down the right side of the penalty area, and then Pereira crossed from the byline back toward Heber at the near post.

A Montreal defender got in the way, but deflected it only as far as Moralez, who hammered a shot from just outside the goal box into the roof of the net in the sixth minute.

Heber gave the visitors a second goal against the run of play in the third minute of first-half stoppage time on a four-on-four break.

Rodriguez eventually got the ball on the right, Heber made another well-timed run toward the near post, Rodriguez found him at the back post and Heber guided his first touch past goalkeeper James Pantemis.

Mango put the match out of reach from the spot in the 61st minute after Pantemis took down Pereira in the box. Pantemis made one save.

"I think playoff games can throw anything at us," Cushing added. "Like I said, against [Inter] Miami, we had control of the game, we managed to score beautiful goals and came off the pitch with high confidence.

"In comparison to today, we had to suffer and play on the counterattack. I knew the game would be 50/50 because I think they [CF Montreal] are an exceptional team.