The honeymoon period may be nearing a close for Wilfried Nancy...
Defeat ‘at home’ to Cincinnati saw the usual negative comment and criticism swirling around the pages of social media, even if performance in the previous unfortunate reverse to Atlanta was Montreal’s best-ever at the Mercedes Benz Arena.
Football is a results-driven business however and either way it’s two defeats in succession. But because it has for so long become the norm these days, it’s convenient to forget this is a side deprived of playing real ‘home’ fixtures, and that should not be dismissed.
Undoubtedly Canadian clubs are at a disadvantage over their American cousins.
Still all of that goes out the window, Saturday, when Montreal travels to Chicago to face the local Fire, a side with more struggles, at least for now, than Nancy’s men.
It should be a lively encounter with both sides feeling they can come away from this one with all three points, and of course there’s the added spice of Montreal’s Djordje Mihailovic returning to face the club that nurtured, developed and unleashed him onto MLS.
Last week Fire won for the first time this season narrowly defeating Inter-Miami in a game they should have won more comfortably. But goals have been hard to come by for Chicago, unless your name is Luka Stojanovic. With three to his credit the Serbian has managed 75% of the team’s output. In the three matches previous to last weekend’s victory Chicago failed to find the net.
Montreal has been slightly more prolific, but nonetheless the news of Mason Toye’s return to fitness is welcomed. The American striker claimed eye-catching goals in each of the opening two matches before injury struck. Montreal hit the net 6 times in those games with Toye present.
Djordje Mihailovic has been playing down the significance of his return to Chicago leading up to Saturday’s game, but are bygones really bygones? Apart from his more obvious technical talents Mihailovic retains a feisty make-up. And make no mistake, Chicago will be out to goad. Djordje’s desire and tenacity are key elements for his new team, but each must be tempered and used positively.
“There are days when I think too much about a game like this,” said Mihailovic. At Chicago there were good times and not so good times. But I’ve moved on. Saturday is not about me, it’s how we play as a team, and the result.”
Soldier Field however is an arena that holds special appeal for the 22-year-old and he’s looking forward to his first appearance there with fans present.
“It will be my first game there with fans. We played there last season, but without fans. As a kid in Chicago I always wanted play at Soldier Field in that 70,000-seat arena... with fans. Now I’ll be doing it... on the other team. But to have any fans there is a big boost, even though they’re not our’s.”
As the venue inspires Djordje, Montreal will be hoping his influence can extend to his team-mates. He could be the catalyst for a much-needed three points.
One player who will be glad to get back on the field after THAT miss last weekend is Romell Quioto. It’s been a tough week for the Honduran who's had encouraging words from his head coach. Still last week’s blip, spectacular that it was, should not overshadow the fact Quioto has assisted in three of his team’s last five goals.
Another key player may return to Montreal’s starting line-up in Sam Piette. Benched on occasions this season as Nancy sought a more attacking balance, Piette’s steadying influence may well be considered key. Results have been better when the Quebecer plays and Montreal could certainly do with digging one out tomorrow.
The fixture is one that normally goes with home advantage, something this morning’s betting markets reflect with Chicago listed as narrowly as 10/11 (1.91). Montreal look overpriced at a more tasty 16/5 (4.2), the value punt for anyone so inclined. The draw can be found at 27/10 (3.65).
Montreal has won once previously at Chicago when an added-time winner by Nacho Piatti clinched the deal. That was over 5 years ago now, at Toyota Park where they’ve also lost six and tied three times.
A first-ever visit to Soldier Field against a struggling host provides the perfect opportunity to reverse the historical trend.
Projected Starting Line-ups -
Fire: Shuttleworth - Sekulic, Omsberg, Calvo, Navarro - Herbers, Pineda, Medran - Frankowski, Beric, Gutierrez
Coach: Raphael Wicky
CFM: Diop - Brault-Guillard, Struna, Camacho, Miller, Kizza - Wanyama, Piette, Mihailovic, Quioto, Toye
Coach: Wilfried Nancy
Match Officials -
Referee: Victor Rivas
Asst Refs: Eric Weisbrod, Gjovalin Bori
4th Official: Natalie Simon
VAR: Malik Badawi
Asst VAR: Mike Kampmeinert
The Ref - Victor Rivas - MLS games: 22
Fouls called per game: 23.5
Yellows per game: 3.7
PK’s awarded: 9
Mr Rivas has only ever officiated in the middle during 2 Montreal games, both away from home and each from last season. Montreal remained unbeaten in both games, tying 2-2 in Dallas after squandering a two-goal lead and recording its most notable win of 2020 in defeating Columbus 2-1 at Crew Stadium.
FIRE 7 wins, 30 goals … CFMTL 8 wins, 29 goals … Ties 6
AT FIRE: Fire 5 wins, 17 goals … CFMTL 1 win, 10 goals … Ties 3
Some top world stars look down on the rest in the scoring charts for the respective sides in this fixture. For Montreal it’s Didier Drogba on 5, with Di Vaio and Piatti, just one behind, while for Chicago, Bastien Schweinsteiger has top-scored along with Nigerian Kennedy Igboananike on 3.
Of the current squad only Lassi Lappalainen and Ballou Tabla have managed goals for Montreal against Chicago, while on the Fire’s books, only last season’s marksmen in the 2-2 draw at Red Bull Arena, Robert Beric and Francisco Calvo have previous against Montreal.
Interestingly, Chicago’s top assist-maker in the series is Montreal’s Djordje Mihailovic on 3.
Evan Bush leads with 4 shut-outs in the series (only 1 in Chicago), with Sean Johnson (2) the only other goalkeeper to record multiple clean-sheets.
Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 31). Recorded Sunday evening, the TBIR team previewed this weekend’s Chicago Fire v CFM clash (with special guest Danny Santaromita of The Athletic and The Chicago Soccer Conversation podcast), and dissected the disappointing performance and loss to FC Cincinnati....
They also discussed the Sam Piette situation and, 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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