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CF Montréal vs DC United Game Preview

The Managers: 


CF Montréal -  Laurent Courtois:  

The 45-year-old Frenchman has taken the reins as the new head coach of CF Montréal. His appointment follows a successful stint with the Columbus Crew 2, where he was named the MLS Next Pro Coach of the Year in 2022 after leading the team to the league title. Courtois brings a history of creative ball control tactics and in developing young talent.

Courtois’s coaching philosophy centers around communication and connection with players. He has earned a reputation as a “player’s coach”, emphasizing the importance of understanding and motivating his team. His approach extends from the developmental levels of the sport, where he crafted his coaching style.

There are two key factors that seem to define Courtois’s vision for taking CF Montréal, into the future, both of which he brings from his time at Columbus Crew 2. The first is a dynamic and attacking style on the field, similar to what former Head Coach Wilfried Nancy brought to Montréal in 2022. He wants his players to be focused on playing forward and creating scoring opportunities. From the goalkeeper to the forwards, the focus is on a proactive, exciting brand of soccer. The second key factor is embracing the youth development potential of the Montréal area. Courtois has shown a commitment to playing young players, and developing homegrown talent. CF Montréal intends to build on the foundation laid by his predecessors, nurturing talent and integrating it into the first team. Courtois has been hired with the goal of creating a seamless pathway for youth players to thrive at the professional level.


DC United - Troy Lesesne: 

Troy Lesesne is dealing with the first real challenge of being DC’s Head Coach in his relatively short tenure. United isn’t playing bad, but they are definitely not playing their best either


Lesesne’s tactical approach and player-centric management style have swiftly resonated with DC United players and fans. Now his patience is being tested as he needs to get a tune out of backup and young players who are getting a lot of run. His coaching philosophy is predicated on two key factors: strategic use of high-pressing intensity and quick turnovers leading to attacking intent.


Lesesne’s hallmark is a strategically applied high-pressing game. Drawing inspiration from the Red Bull philosophy, but not replicating it fully, he encourages his players to apply pressure on opponents at opportune times. DC United currently leads MLS in challenge intensity and passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA). Their pressing actions are concentrated in a narrow 3-5-2 shape, aiming to overload the midfield or force wide passes from the center-backs to the Wingbacks.

Lesesne also encourages his side to focus on regaining possession swiftly and launching attacks within seconds of losing the ball. Their high press this season has led to numerous dangerous recoveries, resulting in rapid shots after winning the ball. The goal is to play forward, create scoring opportunities, and keep the opposition on their toes. 




Preview: 

The Black & Red travel north of the border this Wednesday for a clash of another up and coming MLS team looking to reset its identity. Like Saturday’s opponent, Chicago Fire, CF Montreal is a team with a lot in common with DC.


Both teams missed the playoffs in the 2023 season. Of late, both have hovered near the bottom of the table, in or near the playoff line. Both have new Head Coaches who are introducing playing styles that have led to exciting matches in the early third of the season. Both see the other as competition for the coveted playoff spots.


Since Troy Lesesne’s arrival, the Black & Red has embraced a highly coordinated opportunistic pressing approach which aims to apply pressure at just the right moment to stifle opponents control of the ball, force turnovers, and launch quick counter attacks. At their best the Black & Red will try to keep the ball, and advance it through quick accurate passing.

CF Montreal are looking to turn a corner on a dispiriting winless run in seven matches. Montreal ended their four-match losing streak Saturday with a scoreless draw against Nashville SC. United does not want to be the team that lets Montreal end their winless streak.

Both teams have used a narrow setup aimed at overloading the central areas of the field, allowing quick ball circulation and intricate passing sequences, though both teams are not adverse to kicking the ball wide on the attack to take advantage of space. 


This game between new MLS Head Coaches will be a contest of similar styles applied differently. Both teams are desperately in need of a win, and are playing direct competition for playoff spots. 


Anticipate drama and excitement coming from north of the border.



Keys to the Match: 


Can Lesesne help his team back to the settled play from earlier this season? 

The Black & Red have not been as high flying as earlier in the season. This could be due to a number of factors; fatigue and injuries, along with natural ebbs and flows of player abilities can cause teams to deal with slumps.

Since Lesesne’s arrival, United’s players have embraced his tactics and style of play. Lesesne’s high-pressing philosophy and immediate pressure injected energy into DC United’s culture.


The MLS season is a marathon, not a sprint, so it’s important for Head Coach Lesesne to keep his players engaged and refreshed. Maintaining settled play throughout the season requires adaptability by the Head Coach.

Lesesne’s challenge lies in sustaining the high-pressing intensity while managing player fatigue and tactical adjustments.

If Lesesne can help his players maintain consistency and adapt effectively, United can recapture the style that characterized their early-season performances

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Can DC United make the most of their chances against CF Montréal? 

The Black-and-Red rank 3rd in MLS for big chances created, while Montreal sits near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a –14 goal differential. This shows that opportunities will be there for United. Unfortunately, one of the issues United has had in the 2024 season is that they have not taken advantage of the opportunities they have created. It’s important for United to make the most of their chances as CF Montreal will make United pay if they don’t. Outside of Benteke, ten other United players have scored this season, but all of them have only scored one goal a piece. If DC can get scoring from other players, Benteke will score more too, as defenders won’t be able to focus on him. If United could have scored more, they would not have surrendered so many points.


Can DC play the second half as well as the first? 

The story of the season has been DC United’s has struggled to maintain their performance in the second half of games. Despite their consistent promising starts to matches, the Black & Red has faced challenges in maintaining consistency throughout the full 90 minutes.


One of the reasons for this is that DC United’s defensive organization tends to wane as games progress. Fatigue, lapses in concentration, or tactical adjustments have lead to defensive breakdowns. When these breakdowns have occurred, their opponents have exploit the vulnerabilities that have appeared. United’s opponents have capitalized on DC’s defensive errors to score goals or create goal-scoring opportunities.


United has to find ways to end their games as strong as they start. DC United’s bench strength and the timing of substitutions will play a significant role in improving how United ends their games. Bench strength will have to wait for the transfer window in mid July. The bench substitution strategy will improve as Head Coach Lesesne gets a better feel for his team.


DC United’s second-half struggles is because a combination of physical, tactical, and mental factors. Addressing these issues will be crucial for the Black & Red to secure more points in the latter stages of matches


Can DC find a second goal scorer?

Christian Benteke has been the Black & Red’s star goal scorer with eleven goals this season; ten other United players have found the back of the net, but none of them have scored more than one goal.  DC United need someone else to be a consistent threat, preferably two to be more consistent this season. The team creates chances, its XG is still one of the best in MLS,


In Troy Lesesne’s system, chances are created, but it is imperative that someone other than Benteke improve their off-ball movement, get themselves into position to receive the ball and make quicker decision to shoot so that defenders and or goalkeepers don’t have the chance to block the shot.




Things to Watch: 


Offense - DC United’s offense employs wingers and fullbacks performing overlaps and crosses. Most often with Jarred Stroud as the attacking winger on the right flank. His role is crucial in stretching the opposition defense and creating space for Benteke.

When it’s not Stroud, it’s Aaron Herrera who makes overlapping runs, exploiting the channels between the opposing fullback and center-back. Both of their pace and dribbling ability allow them to beat defenders and deliver accurate crosses into the box.

Herrera also provides United with width by pushing forward and overlapping with Stroud. When United’s winger cuts inside or draws defenders toward them, Herrera has the opportunity to deliver crosses from deeper positions.

In the penalty area, Benteke is exceptional at positioning himself in front of the goal , anticipating these crosses. His height and timing enable him to win aerial duels and convert headers into goals.

One major weakness that United needs to address is that 90% of their offense goes up the right side. United needs to develop a more balanced attack to exploit opponents when they overload their left to counter United’s attack on the right.


Defense - DC United has pretty much adopted a three back defensive scheme for the moment. This allows Troy Lesesne to play Steven Birnbaum and Matti Peltola. United recently last Center Back Christopher McVey to a long term knee injury, so expect Peltola to get a lot of play at Center Back. The new Center Back line  of Lucas Bartlett, Steve Birnbaum, and Matti Peltola need to quickly develop their partnerships, with their strengths complimenting the others.


The three back lineup is possible because two players have stepped up in new positions. Jackson Hopkins has really grown into the Defensive Midfielder role. He still has a lot of room to grow, but his speed, tenacity has served him well on defense, while his dribbling and passing help the Black & Red transition the ball from defense to offense. It’s not a coincidence that many goals United has surrendered is after Hopkins sits.


The other player who has changed position is Cristian Dajome. The traditional winger has become a very capable Wingback. Where his offense has been lacking, his defense has really been a revelation. He has speed and stamina to go up and down the field. If only his offense was as strong as his defense, he would be one of the best MLS Left Wingbacks.


The Black & Red will have to handle CF Montreal’s controlled play, which will see Montréal’s players moving without the ball to exploit space, and receive quick short passes that will look to pull United’s players out of position. Mathieu Choiniere has become the leader for CF Montreal this season, putting in consistent performances for Montreal in the midfield. The fact that he has only scored one goal and assisted another in 14 matches does not vividly emphasize his importance to the team. In that way he’s similar to Mateusz Klich for DC. It will be imperative for Jackson Hopkins and Klich to step up and contain Choiniere, to help reduce the number of opportunities CF Montreal get.








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