Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, UT
When: Saturday, May 8th, 12 Noon PST
How: TSN1, TSN4, CTV (TV); AM730 (Radio); ESPN+ (Internet)
Despite many pundits picking CF Montreal to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, the team formerly known as the Impact has been off to a pretty solid start.
The Quebec side followed up their impressive opening day victory over Toronto FC with back to back draws against Nashville SC and the Columbus Crew. Montreal did blow a two-goal lead to Nashville in the second half of their week two matchup, in what was probably their worst half of football so far this year, but they followed things up in week three with an especially impressive defensive performance, holding Columbus to just three total shots in the match and zero shots on target. Currently, Montreal sits 4th in the East on 5 points.
The Vancouver Whitecaps, meanwhile, will be looking to regain some of the positive play they showed in the first two weeks of the regular season. After an opening day victory over Portland, the Caps followed things up in week two with an eventful draw against TFC. Despite those positive performances, the Whitecaps were unable to build on that success in week three as they stalled-out with a disappointing 1-0 loss to the Rapids. They currently sit 9th in the West on 4 points.
Crucially, the Whitecaps are yet to score from open play this year. If Montreal is able to replicate their defensive performance from last weekend, this could pose a serious challenge for the home side. So, if the Whitecaps want to have success offensively, they’ll have to find a better way to provide service to their dynamic front three, and that will most likely involve Michael Baldisimo playing a key role as a deep-lying playmaker.
It was evident how much Russell Teibert struggled in that role against the Rapids, and it also forced Caio Alexandre to play out of position in his first start for the club. Hopefully, if Baldisimo is back at 100%, this will alleviate many of the midfield struggles, and help create more chances from open play. That being said, given Marc Dos Santos’ comments on Wednesday afternoon, this possibility is growing more and more unlikely. As such, the Whitecaps may very well be staring down the barrel of another challenging day in midfield.
Per MDS, Erik Godoy and Leonard Owusu remain doubts for the #CFMTL game. They participated in 75% of training today, and are hoping to have a full session tomorrow. Michael Baldisimo had a setback on Sunday, and he's also day-to-day as he didn't train fully today#VWFC— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) May 5, 2021
Last Time Out
Last year, these two clubs each took a win in back-to-back high scoring affairs at BC Place. The opening match of the two-game set saw the Impact secure a 4-2 victory, and included a red card for each side, as well as an early 7th minute Theo Bair goal from a tight angle.
The second of these matchups was far more successful for Vancouver, with Cristian Dajome and Fredy Montero doing most of the heavy lifting for the Whitecaps in a 3-1 win.
With CF Montreal favoring a 3-4-1-2 so far this season, the bulk of the team’s offensive play has gone through American youngster Djordje Mihailovic. After coming up through the Chicago Fire youth system, Montreal secured the 22 year-old attacking midfielder’s rights in the offseason through a trade which will end up totaling around 1 million dollars in allocation money. So far, it looks like money well spent.
Mihailovic was a standout for the US U-23’s in Mexico earlier this year, and has built on this run of form through the first three matches of the regular season. Even in a relatively low-event match against Columbus, Mihailovic produced six shot-creating actions and a total of 11 progressive passes. Mihailovic is also a willing defender, averaging 0.71 interceptions per match since the beginning of last season, which is in the top 20% for players at his position.
As much as Mihailovic does on his own, he also opens up space for CF Montreal's wing-backs to roam. Both Zachary Brault Guillard and Mustafa Kizza are eager attackers with the pace and skillset to put central defenders under enormous pressure. When this is combined with quality striker play from Romell Quioto and Mason Toye, Montreal can be a very dangerous team to defend against.
With all that being said, CF Montreal’s attacking play can leave them vulnerable on the counter. Specifically, the space Brault Gillard and Kizza vacate in attack can leave Montreal’s back three vulnerable to crosses into their own box. Nashville abused this space in their two-goal second half comeback, and I’m sure the Whitecaps will be looking to draw up a similar formula for this matchup. Without Luis Binks in the lineup, CF Montreal is rather thin at the centreback position, and when they are stretched out of shape defensively, things can get a bit messy at the back. Is this something Cavallini, Dajome and Caicedo can exploit? We’ll just have to wait and see...
Who’s Going to Win
Considering the Whitecaps’ current struggles from open play, paired with Montreal’s strong start to the season, I’m picking CF Montreal to take this one by a score of 1-0.
Caleb: 1-0 CFM
Ian: 1-1 Draw
Andrew: 1-1 Draw
Luis: 1-0 CFM