After a much-need draw last week against the New England Revolution, the Columbus Crew returns home for an all-important matchup with CF Montreal at Lower.com Field. As the season winds down and the Crew looks to push for an MLS Cup playoff spot, every game is important.
This match, however, is of huge importance as it provides the Black & Gold with a chance to take points off of a team above them in the standings. The Crew is unbeaten in two matches and has an 8-3-3 record all-time against Montreal in Columbus.
Here’s what to expect from each side heading into this Eastern Conference showdown.
CF Montreal at a Glance:
Record: 10-7-8, 37 points
League Form: W-W-L-W-D
Leading Scorer: Mason Toye (7)
Assist Leader: Djordje Mihailovic (10)
Player to Watch: Djordje Mihailovic
One of the bigger MLS trades this past offseason saw Mihailovic cross the Canadian border to join CF Montreal from the Chicago Fire for around $800,000 in General Allocation Money. For Montreal, Mihailovic has been worth every penny. Recording four goals and 10 assists so far in 2021, Mihailovic has almost surpassed his numbers in three years in Chicago in his first season in Montreal.
Known for his passing ability and vision in the final third, Mihailovic has thrived in Montreal’s system that allows him the freedom to roam and find dangerous spaces to attack. As some United States Men’s National Team fans may remember, Mihailovic is capable of taking his own chances and converting them as well. Mihailovic’s whereabouts will be of the utmost importance to the Black & Gold on Saturday if they are to keep Montreal at bay.
How CF Montreal play:
Montreal has been one of the surprise teams in the MLS in 2021. Despite some of their off-the-field issues, Montreal has been relatively consistent and entertaining on the pitch. Led by first-year manager Willfried Nancy, Montreal is squarely in the playoff picture and looks to continue to climb up the Eastern Conference standings.
Montreal’s main feature is the team’s athleticism all over the field. This group finds ways to highlight the team’s athletic advantage and make its opposition pay dearly. The biggest way that Montreal has been able to do this so far in 2021 is in their attacking transition where they excel at attacking the space the opponent vacated after winning the ball back.
Another feature of the Montreal attack is the team’s ability to attack and exploit the central part of the field. Montreal does this by positioning players to attack narrowly and create numerical advantages in the center of the park. These numerical overloads can pull opposing defenders out of position and create space to attack. This also allows the team to exploit the speed on the wings.
Defensively, Montreal is relatively simple. They do 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 the opponent moves the ball to one side of the field, Montreal works incredibly hard to keep the ball from moving off that side.
This is done by moving more players into a smaller space and increased numbers close to the ball when winning the ball back. This allows Montreal to effectively create more attacking transition moments where the team is so effective.
How the Crew can win:
As mentioned, Montreal can be deadly in the team’s attacking transition with speed and counter-attacking ability. Generally speaking, teams like Montreal love playing teams like Columbus because they know that they should have ample opportunities to counter attack against possession-based teams. That being said, the Black & Gold can severely limit Montreal’s attack if they can shut down the visitors attacking transition moments.
There are two main ways for the Crew to do this without changing the game plan. Firstly, Columbus needs to do a good job of counter-pressing to force turnovers before the opponent can get back into attacking positions. This has been a large part of the Black & Gold’s game under head coach Caleb Porter and will be crucial for the Crew on Saturday.
In addition to effectively counter-pressing, Columbus needs to limit bad turnovers when in possession. Black & Gold fans have seen their share of goals off turnovers this year, including one just last week. While the Crew needs to do a better job of limiting those, the team can also afford to limit turnovers in the attacking third as well. These turnovers often lead to counter attacks for the opposition.
In this match, if Columbus can do a good job of finishing attacks by recording a shot on goal or earning a set piece, that will limit the chances that Montreal has to counter attack.
In addition, the Black & Gold will do well to break the Montreal pressure when the Crew is in possession. As discussed, Montreal doesn’t typically apply pressure high up the field but does a very good job of applying pressure once the ball has gone to one side of the pitch.
A huge part of the Crew’s offensive game plan is switching the point of attack, or moving the ball from side to side. This often causes opposing defenses to readjust and move constantly, which is very hard to do correctly every time. Montreal will be committed to keeping Columbus from doing so and looking to pin the Black & Gold on one flank of the field. However, if the Crew is able to switch the point of attack often, it will allow access to space on the opposite side, which can only be a good thing.