April 25th, 2024

CF Montreal’s depth helping team squash last season’s road woes

By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on March 15, 2024.

CF Montreal defender Fernando Alvarez (4) is congratulated by teammates after scoring his side's first goal against Inter Miami during the first half of an MLS soccer match on March 10, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Rebecca Blackwell

CF Montreal is quickly proving that last year’s road struggles are a thing of the past.

Through three matches of a season-opening six-game road trip, Montreal has two wins and one draw for seven out of a possible nine points under first-year head coach Laurent Courtois. The club only earned eight points away from home all of last season in Major League Soccer.

“Our road form last year wasn’t where we wanted it to be,” centre back Joel Waterman said. “This year, we wanted to attack the six-game road trip and really get points. We knew we could, we believed in ourselves.”

Montreal opened with a draw at Orlando SC, followed by wins over FC Dallas and Inter Miami, who rested superstar Lionel Messi. Next up, Montreal plays Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field.

Courtois doesn’t expect his players to let their guards down amid his team’s hot start and Chicago’s less-than-stellar 0-2-1 record, albeit against quality opponents like Cincinnati and Columbus.

“It’s our most difficult match yet that awaits us,” Courtois said. “But the guys are aware of that, they’re aware that it’s early, they’re aware that now we might surprise teams less, we’re aware that we’re facing a very good team and that they are eager to prove themselves in front of their fans.”

Added Waterman: “The next three (games) it doesn’t change,. Whether we’re in Chicago, DC, Seattle, it doesn’t matter. We’re gonna keep that same mentality.”

Waterman credits Montreal’s depth for its strong results early in the campaign.

Three of Montreal’s five goals in the two wins have come from substitutes. Josef Martinez and Sunusi Ibrahim connected on the game-winning goal at Miami after both came off the bench. Centre back Fernando Alvarez also scored while replacing injured Joel Campbell on the back line.

“Our depth is huge,” said Waterman. “Every sub that came on against Miami made a difference, so it’s fantastic.

“It gives us confidence, and (that’s what makes up) championship-winning teams.”

Montreal is second in the MLS Eastern Conference table heading into Saturday’s action. Chicago is 12th. Courtois said Campbell (groin) and midfielder Nathan Saliba (bone bruise) are “doing better” but wouldn’t say if they’d feature in the match.

SIROIS GETS THE CALL

Montreal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois earned his first call-up to the Canadian men’s national team Tuesday for the Copa America playoff game against Trinidad and Tobago on March 23.

Sirois, a former Canadian Premier League gold glove winner, produced 11 clean sheets last season and has helped Montreal to a strong start this year with crucial saves late in games.

“He’s been fantastic for us,” Waterman said. “You’ve seen from games he’s improved in every facet and obviously made some huge timely saves for us. He couldn’t be more deserving of this call-up.”

The 22-year-old Sirois joins national team mainstays Waterman and Samuel Piette on the 23-man squad. Montreal’s Mathieu Choiniere returns to Canada’s camp after playing his first minutes against Japan in October.

“˜LATIN FLAIR’

New striker Matias Coccaro is already making his mark on Montreal’s squad this season. The 26-year-old Uruguayan scored his first goal against Miami with a header and pitched in an assist against Dallas.

Coccaro appears to have a knack for drawing fouls with nine sustained already, helping Montreal score on set plays, something they did twice against Miami.

“Mati has that Latin flair, that Latin style of play where you’re able to draw a lot of fouls, whether that’s shielding the ball and having your back to goal or getting behind the defence’s back,” wingback Ariel Lassiter said.

“˜GENERAL’ WATERMAN?

Waterman – who’s played in all 270 minutes so far this season – is growing into a leader the central figure in Montreal’s three centre back system.

“Over the years, he’s grown as a communicator and right now he’s doing great,” Choiniere said. “He’s really our general at the back, who guides everyone and puts everyone on the right path when it’s needed.”

Courtois wasn’t ready to give Waterman that level of praise, but believes the 28-year-old could warrant that nickname eventually.

“‘General,’ it might be a little early for that, but I think he has the potential, the technical and tactical tools, and the personality to be a great leader,” he said. “There’s progress to be made in the individual defending and the organizational aspect, how to communicate what he’s seeing on the field before the others is another thing too.

“But in terms of potential, he’s really a high-level player. He doesn’t have a limit.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2024.

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