Nashville SC kicked off their 2021 season last Saturday with a game in which they were unlucky to only come away with a draw. This Saturday they welcome Club Foot Montreal who started their season off with an offensive explosion.
Montreal finished last season in 9th place with 26 points. They had a win-draw-loss record of 8-2-13 and a goal differential of -13. They made the playoffs and lost in the play-in match to New England Revolution 2-1 on a goal in the 5th minute of stoppage time. During the offseason, they have gone through a manager change as well as a rebrand. The club formerly known as Montreal Impact lost their manager Thierry Henry as the Frenchman left for family reasons.
Most pundits had CF Montreal finishing at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but they currently sit at the top after demolishing a Toronto FC side who those same pundits had in the top three of the East. They took down their fellow Canadians 4-2 in a shocking result.
Nashville faced Montreal once last season and won 1-0 on a sneaky little play by Alex Muyl to take a free kick quickly and hit a running Randall Leal who slipped a shot just past goalkeeper Clement Diop. Leal was the Man of the Match that night just like he was last Saturday.
Montreal had goals from Mason Toye, who literally scored with his first touch of the game in the 3rd minute with a one-timed shot from the top of the 18-yard box, Romell Quioto who showed blazing speed to just torch Toronto defender Luke Singh before going near post on goalkeeper Alex Bono, Victor Wanyama, who took a powerful header off a corner kick, and new signing Djordje Mihailovic, who took a through ball into the box and powered in into the top right corner.
Mihailovic was a big signing this offseason from Chicago Fire. Montreal gave $800,000 in allocation money with the possibility that it could increase to $1million if Mihailovic reaches certain performance metrics. The central attacking midfielder, who played in six matches for the US men’s national team and scored a goal, had a bit of a falling out with Chicago coach Ralph Wicky, who had continually played Mihailovic as a left winger instead of centrally, but is feeling comfortable with Montreal and new manager Wilfried Nancy.
“I feel a lot of belief from the coaching staff to put me in that position,” Mihailovic said in an interview with Mount Royal Soccer. “They want the ball through the middle and to create chances by passing and not just playing long balls and I believe in my skills enough to be that link up, to play between the midfield and front lines.”
“The big signing in that number 10 role (Mihailovic) has given them a different dimension and certainly gives them a real edge as they transition out of their defensive shape,” Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith said in a press conference Thursday. “The players they added are definitely an upgrade on last year. To come out of the trap and score four goals is no mean feat.” Smith also said that most people thought that Henry’s departure would throw the team into chaos, but they seem to be on the same page, and his club won’t take them lightly.
The 3-4-1-2 formation that CF Montreal ran last week is different than what Nashville uses as well as FC Cincinnati. The three center backs allow the two outside backs to play the full length of the field. The formation shifts to 5-3-2 when on defense. It presents some challenges for the Boys in Gold, but it also offers some opportunities.
“If we properly spread the field out and get the mismatches we want, I think we feel pretty comfortable, and it’s gonna give me and Lovitz if we take up good spots a ton of time on the ball,” said Nashville right back Alistair Johnston on Thursday.
“With wingbacks, you always have to be ready to see whether they’re pressing on or staying back, and that’s gonna affect you as a winger,” Nashville winger Alex Muyl stated Thursday.
Nashville have also played with three in the back at times last season as well as when they were in the USL Championship. Both Muyl and Johnston said that seeing this in practice would help them, but that they still have to come out prepared for anything.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Montreal comes and we see a different setup to how they set up against Toronto. For us it’s going to be about preparing as much as we can, but when you get out there, you just have to play what’s given to you,” Muyl pointed out.
Smith said Thursday that strikers Daniel Rios and Dominique Badji, who were injured last week, are still under watch. Rios is out, but Badji has been training with the first team and will be a decision for Saturday. I predict that Nashville SC wins 2-1 with Leal getting on the scoresheet again as well as CJ Sapong. Mihailovic gets the goal for CF Montreal. Nashville SC are currently at 5th in the East, and CF Montreal are at the top of the table. The match is a matinee kicking off at 1pm CST at Nissan Stadium.
Mihailovic photo by Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports. All other photos courtesy of Nashville SC.