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A Long Afternoon at Soldier Field

Chicago Fire .... (0)0 .... Montreal .... (0)1

MLS: CF Montreal at Chicago Fire
Substitute Mason Toye heads the game’s only goal in the 87th minute. It’s the striker’s third goal in as many matches this season.
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

It was ugly, it was boring, it was 90 minutes none of us will ever get back, but heading into the international break on the back of these three points could just work wonders for Montreal’s morale and confidence.

But what a tough watch it was. Easily the Quebecers’ worst showing of the season. The old adage of managing to win games while playing poorly being the sign of a championship team, would be comforting, only Montreal is not a championship team.... at least not yet!

They were fortunate and even had VAR to thank at the very last for preserving a lead earned through the head of Mason Toye nine minutes previously.

If Mason Toye was man of the moment, Clement Diop was certainly man of the match, the French goalkeeper putting on one of his very finest displays in a Montreal shirt. He kept his side level when smothering a Gutierrez effort just before the half-hour mark, but produced his top save as the game entered the last 15 minutes, denying Herbers who was set up by Aliseda. Diop’s greater than usual desire to advance from his line and command his area was a feature late in the game, perhaps a recently worked-on aspect in training.

MLS: CF Montreal at Chicago Fire
Clement Diop thwarts Chicago Fire midfielder Luka Stojanovic. Diop was his side’s top performer and collected his second shut-out of the season.
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Montreal’s lame and disjointed performance it was they who had the better chances in a drab first-half. Mihailovic, their most creative performer threaded balls through to Ibrahim and Bassong on different occasions, but each of the youngsters lacked composure in executing shots at goal.

Johnsen too had an opportunity when the ball broke his way after good pressing by Struna, but the Norwegian’s shot from 12 yards was beaten away by Shuttleworth.

The action was stuttered and untidy, the opportunity for any rhythm to develop hampered by too many stoppages in play.

Chicago who introduced young designated player Nacho Aliseda improved as the game wore on and were dominant throughout the second period, although the game never much reached even mediocre levels as a spectacle.

Montreal’s attacking wing-backs rarely threatened and nothing much positive came from the visitors until that late winner from Toye. For once Bassong managed to get forward effectively, delivering a perfect cross for Toye to glide into the net beyond Shuttleworth’s despairing dive.

It was a rare moment of quality in a stuttered, error-ridden display by Montreal who counted heavily on its central defensive trio, in particular Camacho. Piette was introduced on the hour-mark to slight improvement, again indicating this side functions better with its #6 in the midst of the action.

MLS: CF Montreal at Chicago Fire
Rudy Camacho had an excellent game despite collecting an unlucky yellow-card after this clash with Luka Stojanovic.
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

There was still one late scare for Montreal as the game approached its 96th minute, shades of Atlanta resurfacing when Wyatt Omberg headed home. But the break went Montreal’s way this time, the goal being ruled out after VAR intervention, Offor Nnamdi the offender earlier on in the build-up.

It was an important victory though fortunate and barely deserved. Wilfried Nancy will know his side got away with one, and will point to other games this season when his team possibly deserved more.

Despite under-par displays in its last two outings, Montreal now heads into the three-week international break psychologically boosted by this unlikely gift of three points.

Recent performances must improve however if the side is to maintain its play-off challenge. They next face DC United, a midweek game on 23 June at Inter-Miami Stadium.

Line-ups -
Fire: Shuttleworth - Sekulic, Omsberg, Calvo, Navarro (Bornstein, 77) - Jiménez, Medran - Herbers, Stojanovic, Gutierrez (Aliseda, 59) - Beric (Offor Nnamdi, 77)
Bench (not used) - Kappelhof, Espinoza, Pineda, Teran, Slonina, Casas
Coach - Raphael Wicky

CFM: Diop - Struna, Camacho, Waterman - Brault-Guillard, Hamdy (Piette, 60), Wanyama, Bassong (Kizza 90+5) - Mihailovic (Torres, 89) - Johnsen, Ibrahim (Toye, 60)
Bench (not used) - Binks, Sejdic, Bayiha, Choiniere, Pantemis
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

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!

Every Week - The Ball Is Round... @TBIRMontreal - please follow us for regular, weekly CF Montreal, Canadian, MLS and international content in English!