Fresh off of an exciting and slightly disappointing CONCACAF Champions League clash with CF Monterrey, the Columbus Crew returns to Major League Soccer action Saturday on the road against CF Montreal. This match is the second of the Black & Gold’s 2021 MLS campaign and promises to be a very intriguing challenge for head coach Caleb Porter.
Just three days after the mid-week clash with Monterrey, Porter will have some tough squad selections to make for this match. In addition to the squad selection challenges, the Crew will hit the road for the first time in MLS play in 2021. Columbus’ road woes were well documented in 2020 and the Black & Gold will be looking to start off road play in 2021 the right way.
It is a good omen for the Crew then that this match will be played in Florida due to restrictions at the border caused by COVID-19. Florida, and Orlando more specifically, was the only place the Black & Gold won outside of Columbus in 2020 and the team will hope that trend can continue early on in 2021.
Let’s take a look at what we may see this Saturday.
CF Montreal at a Glance:
Record: 1-0-1, 4 points
League Form: D-W
Leading Scorer: Mason Toye (2)
Assist Leader: Mustafa Kizza, Erik Hurtado, Joel Waterman, Romell Quito, Samuel Piette, Zachary Brault- Guillard (1)
Player to Watch: Zachary Brault-Guillard
Two words come to mind when thinking of Brault- Guillard: speed and power. The 22-year-old Canadian has found a home in Montreal where he can showcase these abilities regularly.
At such a young age, Brault-Guillard is quickly building a name for himself as one of the more dangerous wide players in the league. Operating primarily on the right, Brault-Guillard is coming off of his first ever goal last week against Nashville SC. Brault-Guillard’s pace and 1 v. 1 ability are a perfect fit for Montreal’s style of play and are a big reason why he is off to a hot start this year.
In the Montreal system, Brault-Guillard often finds himself in insolated matchups with the opposing left back. In addition to this, Brault-Guillard loves to receive the ball near midfield and dribble with pace at the backline, skipping past defenders. Due to his speed and ability out wide, the winger is especially dangerous in attacking transitions and will look to exploit any space given to him.
How CF Montreal play:
Montreal is off to a hot start in 2021 after two matches. The highlight being a 4-2 thumping of Canadian rivals Toronto FC. Despite losing previous head coach Thierry Henry in February, Montreal seems to be a side to be reckoned with this year in MLS.
The main feature of Montreal’s team is the athleticism all over the field. As with all good athletic teams, this group finds ways to highlight the athletic advantage and make the opposition pay dearly. The biggest way that Montreal has been able to do this so far in 2021 is in attacking transition. Of the team’s six goals scored, five have come in attacking transition and counter attack moments. Montreal excels at attacking the space the opponent vacates quickly after winning the ball back.
When asked about Montreal, Porter mentioned the team’s effectiveness in transition and “their ability to attack narrowly” in the center of the field. This narrow attacking strategy allows Montreal to create numerical overloads in the center of the field, which can pull opposing defenders out of position. When these defenders are pulled out, it creates space for attackers to exploit with speed on the wings.
Defensively, Montreal is relatively simple. The team does not have an all-out press on the backline, however, they do have a wrinkle or two worth noting. The most important defensive scheme employed is trying to cut the field in half when the opponent is in possession. In essence, this means that when their opponents move the ball to one side of the field, Montreal works incredibly hard to keep the ball from moving off that side.
Montreal does this for two reasons. Firstly, by moving more players into a smaller space, it makes it much harder for the opponent to progress and move the ball. Secondly, when Montreal does win the ball back, the increased numbers close to the ball allowing them to quickly connect passes and move more players forward into the attack.
How the Crew can win:
This is a typical trap game for the Crew. Coming off of an electric mid-week clash with Monterrey and looking forward to the second leg next week, it’s easy to see how the Black & Gold’s minds could wander a bit. Add in the fact that Columbus is playing Montreal, on the road, in Florida, you can see how this one has the potential to slip away.
However, Porter and his players have echoed the importance of this match and getting the team’s first win in MLS play, as well as win on the road for the first time in over a year. To do this, the Crew must do a few things.
Firstly, Columbus needs to do a good job of breaking Montreal down in possession. More specifically, the Black & Gold need to switch the field and move the ball from side to side. As mentioned, Montreal is intent on keeping the ball on one side of the field. The weakness is when the ball is moved from side to side and that has been exploited a few times this year. If the Crew can do a good job of switching the field of play, specifically through midfielders, the Black & Gold could have loads of space for the likes of Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne Jr, Pedro Santos, Alexander Matan and Lucas Zelarayan to operate.
In addition, Columbus needs to prevent Montreal from attacking in transition. This moment of the game will be magnified in this match as these moments are the main source of the home team’s attack. To do this, the Crew needs to work hard to not lose possession in dangerous areas of the field, especially in the team’s own half. The Black & Gold should also look to effectively counter-press or apply intense pressure upon the loss of possession in an attempt to win the ball back as quickly as possible.
If Columbus can effectively switch the field of play to help create space and chances for the attackers, while simultaneously limiting Montreal’s attacking transition opportunities, this will be a good day for the Black & Gold. However, these things are easier said than done and there’s very little room for error.