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Red Bulls Sips de Tactiques: CF Montréal

The Red Bulls face yet another enticing opportunity against another Eastern Conference team just starting to sputter

MLS: New York Red Bulls at CF Montreal Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Tactical Sips, a semi-regular pre-match post featuring taurine-spiked breakdowns of the upcoming game.

The New York Red Bulls fell to D.C. United, 1-0, ending the upswing of positivity and returning to the cold ground of reality. The match-in-hand remains…in hand, which could prove to be the team’s salvation on Decision Day – everyone’s favorite day after Thanksgiving and Doris. The chances of playoff qualification remain reasonable, but the next stumble could prove fatal. As Doctor Livesey told Billy Bones, “One glass of rum won’t kill you, but if you take one, you’ll take another and another, and I stake my wig if you don’t break off short, you’ll die.”

The next opponent is CF Montréal, which has surprised this season under first-year manager Wilfried Nancy. Times have been tough in Quebec since 2016, with only one playoff appearance and domestic cup victory to hold dear. Like many other Eastern Conference teams, the string might be running out at the wrong time, due to an unfair mix of inexperience and poorly timed injuries. One more loss likely pushes the former Impact out of postseason contention, with the Red Bulls potentially striding forth and proclaiming, “I’m your huckleberry.”

Let’s dive into the shallow depths. Here are two things to watch.


Another fading darling, Montréal has been struggling in the league, winning one out of the last six matches, although the three most recent of those results are draws. Nancy points to a lack of chance creation. “It is our game in the last third that is worrying and that we must correct,” said the manager.

He is, obviously, right. In 31 matches this season, Montréal averaged over 18 shot-creating actions per match. In the last six fixtures, the numbers are 13, 30 (in a 4-1 loss to New England), 16, 15, 11, and 11. The trend is pointed straight downward.

The absence of attacker Romell Quioto due to injury plays a factor but is probably not the only issue. Djordje Mihailovic, one of the league’s best creators, has taken a step back over the past month. He is not wielding as much influence in the final third as before, perhaps indicating that opponents have focused on stopping him. Joaquín Torres aids the cause, but the former Impact lives and dies based on the performances of the young American.

The lack of a primary scoring option can also cause some issues. Quioto has eight goals but, again, is out with an injury. Mason Toye, with seven, is on the long-term disabled list due to shoulder surgery. Sunusi Ibrahim and Matko Milijevic are serviceable attackers but young and inexperienced at the top of the formation. Montréal is still scoring and rarely gets shut out, which indicates the real problem may be elsewhere.


Despite the supposed attacking struggles, Montréal has only failed to score once since August. On the other side of the field, Club de Foot (clubbed foot) has only secured one shutout since August. Nancy may want more productivity in the final third, but stability starts at the back.

There isn’t an exact through line regarding Montréal’s defensive struggles. Columbus Crew SC scored twice on counter-attacks, exploiting turnovers. The New England Revolution converted three closer-range crosses. The Philadelphia Union pushed two free kicks across the line. Atlanta United and Orlando City played vertically, moving quickly through the middle third and playing through balls.

The Red Bulls should experience success implementing the typical tactics. Play direct, hit higher percentage crosses, and take full advantage of set piece opportunities. When on the counter-attack, the ball should stay on the ground, as it has for a month or so at this point. Opposing goalkeeper James Pantemis is in his first season as a starter, experiencing all the highs of wonder saves and lows of ever-exploitable mishandled drops.

If someone had to, under an actionable (and already reported to authorities) threat from a managing editor, diagnose a glaring issue, the three-man Montréal back line is struggling to cover the width of the field and maintain proper spacing.

This is from the New England match (via Major League Soccer YouTube page).

This was against Orlando City (via Major League Soccer YouTube page).

The weaknesses of the 3-5-2 are well-known, particularly on teams prone to poor spacing. The massive gaps on the wing and through the center are wide open for attackers to move into and easily accessed by rudimentary passes. If the center backs are too slow to close down or wingers/wing-backs cannot return promptly, opponents have the time and space to operate. Montréal has some mobile defenders, but they are fallible, prone to bunching in the middle, and occasionally get stuck between meeting the onrushing dribbler or tracking the runner (via Major League Soccer YouTube channel).

Center back Joel Waterman is torn between what to do. Does he step to Wilfrid Kaptoum or track Gustavo Bou? With the other center backs providing no help and winger Zachary Brault-Guillard arriving late, the decision is a definitive… neither, which results in New England’s fourth goal.

So, the Red Bulls should just do that, I guess. Whatever New England is doing, copy it. Carry the ball as deep as possible, and then find Patryk Klimala making a diagonal run.

What tactical storylines are you expecting to play out in the match? Let us know in the comment section.