Nashville, Tennessee - Wil Nancy’s Montreal side rolls into town Saturday hoping to maintain momentum boosted by handsome victory over old rivals Toronto.
It won’t be easy down by the riverside at Nissan Stadium, home of the Titans, but Montreal fans hope to see another positive display by their team.
Luis Binks a key component at centre-back remains a couple of weeks away from fitness, and Lassi Lappalainen, while close, remains on the outside looking in. It’s that Binks injury though which causes most concern.
The Englishman’s presence alongside newcomer Kamal Miller would undoubtedly solidify last season’s defensive core, but his enforced absence sows a seed of doubt. There were shades of 2020’s defensive frailty during last week’s success, ultimately a triumph for Nancy’s positive tactics and refreshing front-foot football.
The head coach will be just as bold from the beginning in Nashville, he doesn’t want his team to sit deep and defend, but his English counterpart, Gary Smith, will look for a more aggressive opening than the one Toronto, or even his own team, produced seven days ago.
Nashville has never lost any game under Smith by more than two goals, yet found themselves trailing by that very margin 12 minutes in against Cincinnati, a team that managed a league-low 12 goals in all of last season.
Nashville, sleepy and flat until that point, dusted themselves down, picked up the pace and in the end should have won a game drawn 2-2 following a relentless display of attacking football.
Nancy expects a similar ferocity at times from the home side tomorrow, that’s why he preaches the mantra, “... the more aggressive the opponent, the more composed we must be to make the right decisions.” The Montreal boss insists his group has worked on this concept.
He knows Nashville will attack, despatch plenty of crosses from the flanks and be prepared to shoot on sight, but nevertheless feels Montreal possesses “... a plan to cause them trouble.”
One thing seems certain; if each sides’ opening games are any benchmark we can forget the ugly encounter everyone endured between the sides at Red Bull Arena last season. Not physically ugly, but aesthetically so. It was dreadful, possibly the worst MLS match consigned to this writer’s memory.
Montreal was well below par and not in a good place, Nashville’s double golden wall did the rest. The strangulation of a game of football, an unforgettable ninety minutes for all the wrong reasons. The barriers of gold won deservedly, 1-0. The perfect result for a team set up as they were.
I swear Walker Zimmerman could have lain back, feet up and puffed on a big fat cigar all night. It would still have ended 1-0
But much has changed from that October evening, the last on which Maxi Urruti took the field in a Montreal shirt, especially within the Montreal group.
It’s something not lost on Gary Smith, who just over a decade ago steered Colorado Rapids to unlikely MLS Cup success. The Nashville coach is wary and expects a difficult game.
“Easy to think Thierry Henry leaves & they’re in turmoil. But they’ve come together well as a group, Wil has them aligned and on the same page. They look bright, focused & energetic with quality & attacking pieces. Won’t be easy.”
And he also had a word of caution against the MLS pundits’ unflattering Montreal predictions should any of his own squad get the idea Saturday might be a shoe-in...
“I believe they have been written off by those on the outside. But inside the league we know they have a lot of good players at that club. They are always challenging & certainly set standards high in their 1st game. We know we have a real difficult weekend ahead of us.”
Nevertheless Montreal doesn’t have too many friends in the betting markets for this one. You can get them at an enticing 24/5 (decimal odds 5.80). The money’s on Nashville, available at 11/17 (decimal 1.65). The draw is 14/5 (3.80).
Expect Montreal to keep the same line-up as that which defeated Toronto, which means another opportunity for Joel Waterman. Seven days ago wasn’t his best game, but he’s rarely let the side down and been extremely patient without so far having too many opportunities, so retention in the side is probably deserved.
Nashville is without Daniel Rios and Abu Danladi although Dominique Badji has trained with the group and Smith indicates he may at least make the bench.
Line-ups (Projected) -
Nashville SC: Willis - Johnston, Romney, Zimmerman, Lovitz - McCarty, Godoy - Muyl, Mukhtar, Leal - Cadiz.
Bench: Meredith, Anibaba, Miller E, Washington, Anunga, Bwana, Pineiro, Sapong, Badji
Montreal: Diop - Brault-Guillard, Waterman, Camacho, Miller K, Kizza - Wanyama, Piette, Mihailovic - Toye, Quioto.
Bench: Pantemis, Bassong, Struna, Maciel, Hamdy, Sejdic, Torres, Johnsen, Hurtado
Match Officials -
Referee - Nima Saghafi
Asst Refs - Peter Manikowski, Adam Wienckowski
4th Official: Fotis Bazakos
VAR: Daniel Radford
Asst VAR: Craig Lowry
THE REF - Nima Saghafi - MLS games 72.
Fouls called/Game - 26.8
Yellows/Game - 3.9
Reds (career) - 9
PK’s awarded - 24
CFM record in MLS Regular season games handled by Nima Saghafi -
MP 8 .... W 4 .... L 2 .... D 2 .... Scored 16 .... Conceded 14 .... Points 14
CFM has scored in every game refereed by Mr Saghafi, apart from one, a 0-2 defeat at FC Dallas. On no fewer than four occasions, CFM has scored on three times. Nima Saghafi also presided over CFM’s biggest-ever MLS defeat, 1-7 at Sporting Kansas in 2019.
Footnote1: One player likely to be involved tomorrow actually played in the first-ever MLS match staged at Stade Saputo in 2012. Bryan Meredith is likely to be the goalkeeper on the bench for Nashville. Bryan was in goal for Seattle Sounders on 16 June 2012. Montreal won 4-1. It is still the only time Meredith has faced Montreal on the pitch.
Footnote2: If as expected Mason Toye takes to the field against Nashville, it will bring up his half-century of MLS appearances (42 with Minnesota United).
Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 26). Recorded Wednesday evening (21 April), the TBIR team discusses the Nashville SC v CFM clash (with special guest Wes Boling of Nashville SC Radio and Club & County podcast), looks back on the #TORONTO WIN!!!! ... and addresses The Super League Fiasco - Greed, Greed, Greed...
They talk the Montreal football issues of the week and cover all the usual favourite features... including, Eve’s Time Machine Social Media & CHOICES... Don’t miss it!
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