Preview: CF Montréal (h).
Updated: Feb 25
When? Sunday February 27th, 10 a.m. PT, 1 p.m. ET and 6 p.m. GMT. Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL. How can I catch the action? The game is going to be broadcast on TVA Sports and MLS Live on ESPN+ for North American residents. Currently the game is not scheduled for UK broadcast, but that could change. Check local schedules. We're back and it's lllliiiiivvvveeee (in the voice of Martin Tyler). In all seriousness it's good to be back and looking forward to some MLS action. As much as I loved the Book of Boba Fett, it's now time for the Book of Orlando City. Maybe messrs Favreau and Filoni could've snuck in an episode centred around the Facundo Torres saga, with Fett stood in the background nodding. You know, not really being in his own show.
I am excited about the season ahead. I think it's hard not to be. Whilst there has been a fair amount of turnover, the Wilff family have not been afraid to splash the cash. The signings of Ercan Kara and Facundo Torres are particularly exciting. Orlando lacked the ability to break down stubborn back lines at times last season, so the addition of such youthful creativity is very much welcome in my eyes. More are expected to walk through the door in the coming weeks as Oscar Pareja continues to bolster his roster. Anyway, without further ado let's get stuck into what promises to be a fascinating beginning to the season.
CF Montréal's style I think it's reasonable to assume that the visitors will come into this game with something of a chip on their shoulder. After all, it was the Lions who unceremoniously called time on their season back in November. Goals from the now departed Daryl Dike and Sebas Mendez were enough to send the Canadiens home crying.
The Canadian club have had a relatively solid transfer window so far, as they look to go one better than last season and qualify for the post season. Montreal have made several impressive additions, including Alan Johnston from Nashville and the re-signing of Sebastian Breza from Italy.
There's no way to say this kindly, but there has to be a significant improvement from Wilfried Nancy's team this season. Their 10th place finish would have been a huge disappointment to the Quebec club. This is a team that continues to exclude itself from the post season party; 10th and 9th placed finishes in 2019 and 2020 were seen as huge disappointments. Nancy probably gets a pass for 2021, given the haphazard nature of their season, owing largely to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, however, you get the feeling he has to deliver.
It will be interesting to see how they approach this game in terms of their shape and style. They certainly need to be a little more adventurous this season; 46 goals for and 44 against in 2021 tells its own story*. Their XG of 1.3, had them ranked 21/27 in MLS last season as they failed to score in 26% of their games overall. They averaged a meagre 12.94 shots per game. All of this, coupled with a record of 8 clean sheets, meant that it was always going to be difficult for them to break into the play-offs. They just weren't adventurous enough, whilst they weren't exactly stellar at the back either.
*CF Montréal dispatched Santos Laguna in CCL this week, 3-0. So... Yeah.
Will all that change? Maybe. Joaquin Torres is a progressive player, who has now had a year in the league, and is one who could help enable that change. Registering 0.24 assists per game in the last calendar year, as well as an equally impressive 3.34 progressive passes per game (figure 1), it's clear to see why the club were keen to bring him back in. Gabriele Corbo is also a solid addition in the centre of defence. During his loan spell at Ascoli (Serie B), he completed 1.93 interceptions per game (figure 2). And we all know about Alan Johnston. Sorry Nashville fans, that still wasn't a foul. If you're of an Orlando persuasion, and you don't know what incident I'm referencing (of course you do) then I envy you. I'm still mad about it.
Figure 1 shows some of Joaquin Torres' passing statistics over the last 365 days.
Figure 2 shows some of Gabriele Corbo's defensive action statistics in Italy.
Obviously with this being the start of the season both squads will be relatively fresh. In any case, the MLS Injury Report has yet to be updated (at least at the time of writing). The visitors could hand a debut to new signing Alan Johnston. Gabriele Corbo has also joined, on a season long-loan, from sister club Bologna. He joins Breza as another loanee from the Italian club. Lassi Lappaleinen has also re-joined on a permanent deal. All could feature.
As for Orlando City, Ercan Kara is being treated on a day by day basis, following his injury in pre-season. This was true at the time of recording, though the club doesn't anticipate any issues ahead of opening day. Cesar Araujo will likely make his debut alongside Kara and record signing, Facundo Torres. Both clubs also have a handful of draft picks who could feature, though none have been signed as of the time of writing.
*EDIT 2/15/22: Jack Lynn has been signed to a one year contract and Alex Freeman has been signed to a homegrown deal.
*EDIT 2/23/22: Antonio Carlos is now training, following the resolution of his visa issues. Remains to be seen if he will start, given his lack of team training.
*EDIT 2/25/22: Michael Halliday is an injury doubt.
Possible Starting XI
Line-ups at this stage of the season, are always tricky to predict. Especially when you consider the new signings coming in, as well as any future potential new additions. I'm going to work on the assumption they'll use a 3-4-3, as they often did last season. I wouldn't be surprised if they went in a different direction with their shape and style, however.
Whilst the Argentine playmaker perhaps didn't set the world alight last season, he produced solid enough numbers. He scored 4 times and created 5 goals across 22 starts and 6 substitute appearances in 2021. He amassed 1,891 minutes in total. With the benefit of a full MLS season under his belt, it could be the erstwhile Newell's Old Boys players' time to shine.
The Canadian club finished 10th last season, with a 12-10-12 record, whilst Orlando went 13-12-9 before losing in the first round of the MLS Cup play-offs following a 6th placed finish. Orlando won the last meeting between the 2 sides:
*All statistics courtesy of fbref.com