Head coach Wilfried Nancy on Saturday faces a third counterpart in succession who enjoyed a successful playing career with Manchester United...
Following on from Phil Neville and Gabriel Heinze, Jaap Stam and his struggling FC Cincinnati team are next in line.
And despite the Orange & Blue’s poor start to the season, it’s not an opponent to be taken lightly.
Nancy has warned about any of his players tilting towards complacency. “Standings are unimportant. If any one of my players gets a little lazy because he perceives he is facing a lower team, he will not play for me. Every game in MLS is difficult.”
“I don’t like the word ‘underdog’. All my life I was never an underdog, it’s a game, not war. Anyone can win or lose. Look at Lille in France. They could be about to win the league. Is it an underdog? I prepare all games with same intensity & desire.”
There is reason for Montreal to focus on its only previous meetings with Cincinnati rather than the latter’s poor form in discovering the right motivational mindset. Falling back on its traditional trouble in facing expansion sides, Montreal lost 1-2 in Cincinnati in the first clash, although to be fair they did have a perfectly good goal chalked off for offside (where was VAR when it was needed?).
In the second and last meeting on an eminently forgetful night at Stade Saputo, they again lost... to Allan Cruz’s 1st minute goal. Despite having 89 mins to get back into the game Montreal rarely threatened. Not even the 88th minute dismissal of Cincy’s Kendall Waston could help.
When you’ve lost both meetings to a side that finds wins hard to come by, only ten in its first two MLS seasons, and which knows only last-place finishes, there’s reason to believe in the concept of hoodoo.
But Wilfried Nancy will not allow for superstitious thoughts. Talk of bogey teams is off the table, the coach dispelling such thoughts and preparing as normal, a game-plan to succeed over another dangerous opponent.
Casual observers, and perhaps some of those more knowledgeable, fully expect a Montreal win despite the history between the sides.
Montreal has made a solid start to the season and can count themselves unlucky not to have emerged from a trip to Mercedes Benz Stadium last weekend unscathed.
Conversely Jaap Stam, after a year in the job at Cincy, still struggles to find a winning formula. His record of only five wins has to be a major concern and certainly there are some fans calling for the coach’s head.
The former Dutch international defender was encouraged by his side’s performance in last week’s new stadium opener however, despite losing by the odd goal in five to Inter-Miami. Stam was pleased with the character shown by his side in coming from two down to level the game, also noting they created chances to go ahead, before Miami led again thorough Gonzalo Higuain’s 85th minute winner.
There were three new men in defence last week, including goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer and the US international Geoff Cameron, signed very recently from QPR in England’s Championship.
Allan Cruz, the leading scorer in the Montreal/Cincinnati series, was also restored to the side as was Luciano Acosta, the diminutive former DC United schemer whose early season has been disrupted by injury.
Ronald Matarrita, another arrival this season has been one of Cincy’s top performers, but possibly the player Montreal must keep closest tabs on is Alvaro Barreal. The youngster was given a debut for Velez Sarsfield, by current Atlanta coach Heinze, a couple of years ago against Boca juniors at La Bombonera, no less.
Barreal is a winger who likes to cut inside and found himself on the scoresheet last weekend against Miami. Although he tends to drift in and out of games, his presence will ensure optimum concentration levels for Kamal Miller and whomever slots into the left wing-back role for Montreal.
Nancy will again be thinking tactically around his midfield composition. Does he continue with Wanyama and Piette, or is one man left in the bench in favour of a more attacking option, a valid consideration for this game?
Montreal will be hoping to welcome back, Zachary Brault-Guillard, and although last week’s deployment of Lappalainen in the wide left role was unsuccessful, Saturday’s may be a game more suited to his retention.
Up top, the combination of Quioto and Johnsen is likely to be resume.
It’s a game Montreal must pick up three points in, if play-off aspirations are realistic.
The odds-makers suggest it will be third time lucky for the Montrealers, who are odds-on going into a game for the first time this season. Montreal is best-priced 4/5 (1.80) with FC Cincinnati, facing a fourth straight defeat, widely available at 7/2 (4.50). The draw is 14/5 (3.8).
Projected Starting Line-ups -
CFM - Diop - Struna, Camacho, Miller - Brault-Guillard, Piette, Sejdic, Mihailovic, Lappalainen - Quioto, Johnsen.
Coach: Wilfried Nancy
FCC - Vermeer - Gyau, Cameron, Vallecilla, Matarrita - Barreal, Cruz, Acosta, Kubo, Harris - Brenner
Coach: Jaap Stam
Match Officials -
Referee: Fotis Bazakos
Asst Refs: Peter Balciunas, Andrew Bigelow
4th Official: Marcos de Olivera
VAR: Robert Sibiga
Asst VAR: Kyle Longville
The Ref - Fotis Bazakos - MLS games: 108
Fouls called per game: 23
Yellows per game: 3.6
PK’s awarded: 36
Mr Bazakos has already refereed Montreal this season, in the 2-2 draw at Nashville. All-time he has refereed Montreal 11 times in MLS. Montreal has won 4, lost 4 and tied 3 of those games.
He has dismissed two players, both interestingly enough in Montreal v Chicago Fire clashes at Stade Saputo. Firstly in April 2013, it was Jeff Larentowicz (straight red) in the 63rd minute of a 2-0 win for Montreal, then in September 2015, Laurent Ciman received his marching orders after picking up a second yellow in added time at the end of a 2-1 win for Montreal.
Montreal has never lost a home game with Fotis Bazakos in charge. They’ve won 4 and drawn one, and scored exactly two goals in each of the five home games he’s controlled.
LEAGUE HEAD-TO-HEAD: CFMTL 0 wins, 1 goal … FCC 2 wins, 3 goals … Ties 0
MONTREAL HOME GAME: CFMTL 0 wins, 0 goals … FCC 1 win, 1 goal … Ties 0
Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 30). Recorded last Sunday evening, the TBIR team discussed the upcoming CFM v FC Cinncinati clash (with special guest Stephen Buckeridge of the You’re Not Lion podcast), and reviewed the Inter-Miami win and late heartbreaking loss to Atlanta....
They talked MLS player salaries, the Montreal football issues of the week and covered all the usual favourite features... including, Eve’s Time Machine, Sam’s Social Media & Hady’s CHOICES... Don’t miss it!
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