April 17th, 2024

CF Montreal looking to keep positive on lengthy stretch away from home

By Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press on March 1, 2024.

CF Montreal is used to embarking on long road trips early in the season. However, the beginning to the 2024 campaign is the most skewed since the team’s arrival in Major League Soccer. CF Montreal forward Matias Coccaro, centre, controls the ball in front of Orlando City midfielder Cesar Araujo, left, during an MLS soccer match, in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Phelan M. Ebenhack

MONTREAL – CF Montreal is used to embarking on long road trips early in the season. However, the beginning to the 2024 campaign is the most skewed since the team’s arrival in Major League Soccer.

The club is opening the season with six consecutive games, and eight of its first 10, being played away from home.

With five of the club’s six-week training camp taking place outside Montreal before the season started, the extended time on the road presents a mental challenge for its players.

“The guys have been away from home a lot already. From one plane to another, one hotel to another one, so (we ask ourselves) how can we keep a jovial atmosphere,” said head coach Laurent Courtois. “We try to find a balance between (work and) letting the guys get a breather and letting them live.”

After grabbing a point in its season opener against Eastern Conference rival Orlando City SC, Montreal will now make the trip to face an unfamiliar FC Dallas side on March 2. This will be Montreal’s first time facing off against Dallas in nearly four years, when the club was still known as the Impact.

After a busy off-season that saw it add some top talent, Dallas is looking to be one of the early contenders in the Western Conference. One of the major additions is midfielder Asier Illarramendi, who won a Champions League title with Real Madrid.

The former Spanish international arrived last year before the mid-season deadline and has already made a significant impact on his first full season with Dallas, scoring a spectacular goal on opening day in a 2-1 win over San Jose.

“It’s going to be a really big task, they have some really good players (in the midfield) but also up top and they have a lot of quality all around the pitch,” said Montreal captain Samuel Piette. “It’s not just about man marking, we have to be solid and compact as a unit which is something we did really well against Orlando.”

Whether stifling opposing build-up play or controlling the tempo in Courtois’ new possession-dominant and attacking philosophy, Montreal’s midfield will be counted on a lot against Dallas.

With several newcomers both in defence and attack, there is only one new face amongst the midfielders in Dominic Iankov. Besides the Bulgarian international, many key members of the midfield have been together for years.

“The coach told us, we just have to maintain a consistent level and keep on getting better every single game,” said midfielder Mathieu Choinière, who won the club’s Most Valuable Player award in 2023. “After that, we know to play our game and what’s needed, it’s up to us get the right players the ball.”

Choinière, a youth academy graduate, enjoyed a breakout season, earning an MLS all-star nod as well. In addition to Choinière and Piette, a number of local midfielders are cementing themselves as important members of the organization.

Nathan Saliba, Rida Zouhir, and 17-year-old academy player Alessandro Biello – who has been selected for Canada’s under-20 team – showcase what the future of Montreal’s midfield could look like.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2024.

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