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Matchday Preview: CF Montréal

What to watch for as the Red Bulls head to the land of poutine

MLS: CF Montreal at New York Red Bulls
Will Dru Yearwood and the Red Bulls be able to gain ground on a top-of-conference rival?
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

I finally got around to seeing Whiplash the other day. A fantastic film, and a great commentary on the fact that the less often you wear V-necks, the more talented you become. I’m pretty sure that was the main message.

Tactics Board

As the 2022 MLS regular season enters its final days, the Red Bulls travel to Canada for a matchup against one of the Eastern Conference’s best in CF Montreal. With a spot in the playoffs becoming more assured every week, the team’s focus starts to shift to entering the postseason in the best form possible, especially after a rollercoaster summer that saw the squad fluctuate but ultimately keep their place in the upper echelons of the standings. A hard fought win against Inter Miami last week will have done wonders for the team mentally, but they face a real challenge to keep the momentum going against one of the top teams in the league.

Montreal have had a tough time in recent years, with off the pitch issues stifling the promising work being done on the field. But slow progress has started to pay off for the organization, with the perennial plucky underachievers showing their full potential in 2022.

Head coach Wilfried Nancy has installed a possession-based 3-4-1-2 system since his arrival in 2021, committed to keeping the ball and waiting for quality opportunities to arrive. It’s a fluid, free-flowing style that makes for attractive soccer in attack. Montreal have faced the most pressures in the entire league, and yet they have been incredibly efficient at playing out of it, with their opponent’s successful pressure percentage of 25.3% by far the lowest in the league. The usual midfield trio of Ismael Kone, Djordje Mihailovic, and Victor Wanyama is very technically adept and does not surrender the ball easily, the setup allows them to consistently have a teammate available to play the ball to, and continue their travels up the pitch.

The expansive style of play leads to quality scoring opportunities when it’s fully in flow, and the seasons of adjusting and fine-tuning the playing style are starting to pay off for Montreal. Despite having a relatively low amount of shot attempts and shots on goal, they have the joint 2nd highest goals per shot ratio (.13) in the entire league, and the 2nd highest goals per shot on target ratio (.37) as well. They consistently create high quality opportunities, rarely needing to settle for a hopeful long shot (although those seem to have been working out recently as well.)

The result is the second highest scoring record in the league, and their high xG overperformance points to a ruthless efficiency that great sides need. 13 goals in their last 5 is a daunting number for the Red Bulls defense to look at, but the only way to be the best is to be able to beat the best. Getting out of this fixture unscathed, and especially with a win, will do wonders for the team mentally, who have little room to falter as crunch time approaches.

Predicted Lineups

CF Montreal (3-5-2): Breza, K. Miller, Waterman, Corbo, Lappalainen, Mihailovic, Wanyama, Piette, Quioto, Torres

New York Red Bulls (3-4-3): Coronel, S. Nealis, Reyes, D. Nealis, Pasher, Casseres, Edelman, Harper, Luquinhas, Klimala, Morgan

Players to Watch

Patryk Klimala

Finally giving in to the seemingly obvious pick, as the faltering Polish striker extended his non-penalty scoreless streak to 15 last weekend. While the unique role of strikers in Gerhard Struber’s system has been well expounded upon, and Klimala has done that part well, goals are still expected to some extent. With new signing Elias Manoel deemed not quite ready for minutes, and fan favorite Tom Barlow being assigned a consistent substitute role, Klimala has emerged as a clear starting striker in recent weeks. The former Celtic player has kept his head up throughout the dry spell, but entering a more productive rhythm before the playoffs start will be important if he wants to be a contributor when it counts. Montreal are a tough defensive team, allowing the lowest amount of shots in the league, and the 4th fewest shots on target. They will give Klimala and the Red Bulls attack very little to work with, so it’ll be important for the Pole to be at his clinical best if he wants to start getting into form.

Djordje Mihailovic

The former Chicago star has found new life in Canada with CF Montreal, after a huge trade sent him northward in 2021 he’s had a rebirth as the main playmaker for the team. Currently standing on 7 goals and 3 assists in MLS, his exploits recently earned him a move to AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands. A classic number 10, somewhat of a rarity in the modern game, Mihailovic is a natural creator, possessing an excellent range of passing and vision of the field at any given moment. At Montreal he’s given creative license, able to roam the field and pick passes at his leisure. With his usual midfield partner Ismael Kone suspended for the Red Bulls match, the USMNT outsider will have to pick up even more creative burden against the Red Bulls, so it will be imperative for the Red Bulls midfield to track him effectively and keep his options limited.

Final Prediction

Montreal are a scarily good team in scarily good form, and even with the Red Bulls coming off an important win the issues are far from resolved. A 1-1 draw feels optimistic.