CF Montreal boss Wilfried Nancy is relieved he will not have to face Valentín Castellanos again this term following the New York City FC star’s move to Girona on loan, but admits he is happy to see the “pure player” get his crack at Europe.

Castellanos, the leading scorer in MLS this term with 13 goals, is ducking out of the reigning champions midway through the term to have a shot across the Atlantic in La Liga, with the 23-year-old likely hopeful of securing a long-term European future.

His exit leaves NYCFC down a major star in what could be a boost for their hosts when it makes the trip over the border for Saturday’s game – and Nancy admits it is both a boost to his side and a delight for the star himself.

“Personally, I won’t miss him because he’s a pure player,” he stated. “Already, at the beginning of the year, when we played against them in preparatory matches, we talked a bit and I asked what he was doing here. ‘You have nothing more to do here, you have won everything, go see Europe’.

“(But) it’s always a good team, New York City. We know that they invest a lot, they do their job well. It doesn’t change anything for us. We know we are going to face a good team.”

Opposite number Nick Cushing, meanwhile, is happy to repay the compliment on Nancy’s side, and admits his team will face a tough road test on Saturday.

“They are really good team and really well coached,” the interim boss stated. “They’re a team that wants the ball, a team that wants to dominate the ball and drag you out by overloading with the back-three and two midfield players. They’re a team that once they drag you out they attack the space really well.

“We have to be really aware of their strengths. We have to be really mindful of how we control the space offensively, and how we control the game by keeping possession of the ball because both teams will want the ball in this game.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Montreal – Romell Quioto

The veteran forward has very much been the anchor of Montreal’s success up front this term with a combined dozen goal involvements, including nine finishes of his own. With their opponents missing a key piece of their attacking puzzle, any impact could be crucial.

NYCFC – Heber

With Castellanos – the competition’s leading scorer – bowing out midway through the campaign for his shot at Europe, it will fall to the Brazilian, who was unused on the bench during last year’s MLS Cup win, to guide them up front. He is their second-top scorer this term with six finishes.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– New York City FC has won four of its last five matches against CF Montréal (L1), including a 4-1 win on March 12. NYCFC has never lost a match in Montreal (W4 D1), with Montreal’s only home win coming in a match in Harrison, NJ, in 2021.

– CF Montréal recorded a 2-1 win over D.C. United on Saturday, its second consecutive win. It marked the league-high ninth time this season that Montreal won a match by a one-goal margin, with each of the club’s last five league victories coming by one goal.

– New York City FC’s 2-0 win over Inter Miami on Saturday was its fourth straight win, equaling the club’s longest winning streak of the season. NYCFC has 41 points in 2022, the most by a reigning MLS Cup Champion 21 games into its title defense in league history.

– Quioto scored 42 seconds into CF Montréal’s win over D.C. United, the third time this season a Montreal player scored in the opening minute of a match (D. Mihailovic on April 16 and May 22). Montreal is the first team in MLS history to score in the opening minute of three matches in a single MLS season.

– Argentinian Maxi Moralez and Brazilian Héber scored NYCFC’s two goals against Miami on Saturday. Thirty-three of the team’s 41 MLS goals this season, including the last 16 in a row, have been scored by either Argentinians or Brazilians.