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Bjorn Again, Montreal Tops The East!

Inter Miami CF .... 0 .... CF Montreal .... 2

MLS: CF Montreal at Inter Miami CF
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.... Bjorn Johnsen celebrates his second goal last night at DRV PNK Stadium....
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Last night was the the night when Miami, fresh from an encouraging weekend second-half performance against Atlanta, would kick on, adding momentum to an already three game winning streak.

Mr Beckham was there to see it, along with celebrity in the form of French DJ’s David Guetta and Cedric Gervais and boxing’s Heavyweight World Champion Tyson Fury. Even the great Bulgarian, Hristo Stoichkov was present, the ex-Barca striker present as a commentator for Spanish channel TUDN.

But they all reckoned without Montreal playing its best 45 minutes of the season, and then comfortably consolidating a 2-0 interval advantage after the break. In fact had Maciel’s late strike been a couple of inches lower the margin would’ve been still greater.

Like Miami, Montreal certainly didn’t pick up where they left off Saturday. An ultimately disappointing conclusion to their Vancouver assignment was turned completely on it's head by a bold and bright start against the glamour boys.

Lappalainen had a chance blocked on 3 mins, Gonzalez Pirez was yellow-carded on 7 for tripping Johnsen. Perhaps he knew something the rest didn’t. It was an uncomfortable evening for the centre-back after that, but a breakthrough one for the Norwegian striker.

Much maligned after missing a glaring opportunity Saturday, Johnsen displayed the qualities for which Olivier Renard pursued his signature. Those days began when the 6ft 5 front man was knocking in goals with regularity for Den Haag in Holland. And of course he scored both goals which decided this game.

He might have gone on to record still more, but the almost two-and-a-half hour weather delay possibly put paid to those chances.

MLS: CF Montreal at Inter Miami CF
Gonzalez Pirez of Miami tries to hold back Romell Quioto. Quioto was instrumental in the Miami man’s uncomfortable night.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

When the teams did resume Montreal more than held their own. Sound in midfield, solid at the back and dangerous on the counter. They looked fresh, energetic and resembled more the home side, than their hosts.

Inter-Miami had a day less rest than Montreal, but then the Quebecers had a trip to the west and back to contend with, probably levelling out any potential advantage.

Johnsen had talked about not feeling any pressure despite neither starting many games nor hitting the net in his early appearances. In the previous day’s press conference he looked relaxed, even confident.

His assuredness was not misplaced. In the 14th minute Camacho began a move which cut right through Miami’s heart. Feeding Piette, on to Mihailovic who weighted a perfect ball, sending Johnsen away between the Inter centre-backs.

McCarthy in the home goal showed too much of a gap at the near post and the Norwegian didn’t need a second invite. Commentator Ray Hudson described Johnsen’s execution, “... as cool as a polar bear’s backside”.

Johnsen doubled the lead on 25 mins, stealing a march on Shawcross before producing the most delicate of touches on a superb set-up by Quioto. The Honduran had bettered Gonzalez Pirez, got to the line and delivered a superb cut back. The ball trickled towards goal, kissing the post before finding the net. Lappalainen playing in an unaccustomed wing-back role had begun the move deep in his own half.

In between the goals, Pantemis earned his corn producing a top-class save after Pizarro had laid back for Brek Shea to rifle towards goal with venom.

MLS: CF Montreal at Inter Miami CF
Mihailovic (right) rounds Miami’s Gregore during the first-half.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The long weather break barely affected matters, so therefore probably suited more the team in the lead.

Inter Miami, who troubled Atlanta on Sunday, were at best patchy. French World Cup winner Matuidi, as in last season’s appearance against Montreal, performed the role of passenger, while star striker Gonzalo Higuain wasn’t enjoying his second outing against the Quebecers. He’s barely had an influence in either game.

Scotsman Lewis Morgan, Inter’s top performer at the weekend was another who failed to shine and the central defensive partnership between Gonzalez Pirez and Shawcross looked decidedly insecure, although to be fair it’s early days.

MLS is not such an easy league for a new coach unfamiliar with its many peculiarities. Philip Neville is probably still appreciating that phenomenon.

And after a three-game unbeaten sequence, last night’s chastening experience will have given him plenty to ponder.

“We’ve got to be really honest, we were beaten by a better team,” said Neville.

“The first half was unacceptable from us all, myself included. I have to take responsibility as the manager…It’s hard to take. It’s the first time it’s happened this season. It’s a bit of a reality check for us all in terms of where we are and where we want to get to.

He was also gracious in defeat: “We congratulate Montreal. They are the best team we played so far, and we are bitterly disappointed.”

The Inter-Miami boss’s comments may sound flattering but they weren’t. Montreal really were that good on the night. It’s as confident a performance as this team has produced in a long time. So long in fact, this writer can’t recall.

MLS: CF Montreal at Inter Miami CF
Emanuel Maciel came within a whisker of registering his first Montreal goal when his fine effort struck the cross-bar.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

A display laden with superlatives and big performances all over the field. Indeed if Sam Piette has had a better game, then I need it pointing out to me.

Sound at the back, perhaps a few anxious moments for Clement Bayiha, but the young Cameroonian held his own, performing a significant role. Bassong too when introduced, another youngster who didn’t look out of place, comfortable and confident on the ball, while Hamdy’s agility and guile helped his side knit precise, crisp passes together.

Undoubtedly there are better components in a much more flexible squad this season. But you can still see where this style took root. Wilfried Nancy has so far done a good job refining the blueprint and taking it to the next level. Top of the Conference after five matches... who’d have thought?

He spoke of his pride in the players last evening and how they’d applied themselves, including their management of the lengthy weather delay. Nancy possessed the air of a man who’d just watched his side purr for the first time, rightly managing a smile and no doubt much satisfaction inside.

There will be bigger tests to come, Atlanta this Saturday to begin with, so it's too early to become carried away.

You always felt this side was going to need a statement victory, which is exactly what last night felt like.

And for the Montrealers to do it before the very eyes of Manchester United Treble Royalty, it undoubtedly cranks up the levels of satisfaction.

But let’s hope the landlords don’t put the rent up!

Line-ups -
IMCF: McCarthy - Ulloa (Azcona, 85), Shawcross, Gonzalez Pirez, Shea (Jones, 63) - Gregore, Matuidi - Morgan, Chapman (Higuain; F, 46), Pizarro (Leerdam, 74) - Higuain; G
Bench (not used): Castanheira, Guediri, Makoun, Carranza, Azcona
Manager: Philip Neville

CFM: Pantemis - Bayiha, Struna, Camacho, Miller, Lappalainen (Bassong, 56) - Piette (capt), Hamdy (Maciel, 74), Mihailovic (Sejdic, 37) - Quioto (Ibrahim, 74), Johnsen (Hurtado, 74)
Bench (not used): Diop, Waterman, Torres
Head Coach: Wilfried Nancy

Match Officials -
Referee: Guido Gonzales Jr.
Asst Refs: Nick Uranga, Brian Poeschel
4th Official: Marcos de Oliveira
VAR: David Gantar
Asst. VAR: Chantal Boudreau

Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 29). Recorded Sunday evening, the TBIR team discusses the upcoming Inter-Miami v CFM clash (with special guest Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald), looks back on the 0-2 reverse against Vancouver Whitecaps... and features the CONCACAF Futsal Championship.

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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