Philadelphia Union takes on CF Montreal starting at 7:30PM ET on MLS Season Pass and on the Apple TV app.
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell how much impact a head coach has on a team. But sometimes it’s very, very easy.
Take Wilfried Nancy. Over two seasons in Montreal, he turned an inconsistent and unremarkable roster into an Eastern Conference contender that absolutely nobody wanted to face. Last year, Montreal finished the season playing with structure and intent, losing only once in their final 11 matches of the year and shutting out Orlando before falling to NYC in the MLS Cup playoffs.
Nancy, however, moved on. The ambitious Columbus Crew were so certain Nancy was the right man to lead their project that they compensated CF Montreal to bring the coach and some assistants to Ohio. Montreal turned to former DC United head man Hernan Losada to lead a youth-driven reset.
Through two matches, Losada’s side has yet to score a goal and is one of only eight clubs with a per-game Expected Goals For number below one goal, and in the bottom four in the league in Expected Goals Against at 1.68. This is a small sample size, but the top-line numbers say the same: Three games, no goals, no points; Montreal is still searching for its new identity.
Perhaps most worryingly, players that were standouts under Nancy have not hit the same heights this season. Kei Kamara was moved on, but Romell Quioto, Victor Wanyama, and Kamal Miller haven’t looked like the game-changers they could be last year.
Philly’s objective will be to take advantage of the lack of shape Montreal shows in transition. Wanyama is still a force in the center, but he’s far more effective when he can make simple decisions; covering ground is no longer among his many high-level attributes.
Next For the U | CF Montreal on Saturday night
The Union have now put together a pair of strong performances after going goalless over the previous two games. Against Chicago, Philly was stout but disjointed in the final third and needed a last gasp blast from Joaquin Torres to win. A set piece goal halfway through Tuesday’s match at Alianza finally broke the dam, and the Union travel to Montreal with more of the swagger that dripped off their opening weekend win over Columbus Crew.
Jim Curtin’s tough decisions for Saturday’s match include all three levels of the squad. In back, Damion Lowe’s performances against Alianza across two legs have shown he’s pushing hard for his first MLS start of the season. Yet both Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes have pitched shutouts next to Lowe so dropping them for Saturday’s game still feels unlikely. Curtin’s exploration of a back five could get Matt Real on the field at left wingback and give Kai Wagner a rest after a busy start to the year.
In midfield, Perea and Jack McGlynn continue to show they are ready for a MLS starting nod and up front Joaquin Torres is knocking on the door behind the entrenched starters.
These are all good problems to have, and Curtin is known as one of the league’s best man-managers because of his ability to navigate a deep roster.
No matter who gets their name in the first eleven, expect the Union to attack Montreal with speed following turnovers since the Canadian side hasn’t shown great shape in transition recoveries this year. Once Wanyama is out of the center, Philly will look for Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza, and Ale Bedoya to fill the space and play short throughballs toward the endline for cutback finishes.
A final note for Union fans — Andre Blake was diagnosed with a low-level muscle strain that will keep him out this weekend. Joe Bendik is likely to make his second consecutive start after shutting out Alianza midweek. The veteran goalkeeper is a strong communicator and should organize the defense well in transitions, and it will be interesting to see how he uses his big leg in distribution to push the game vertically.
The Union face off with CF Montreal live in Olympic Stadium starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. Don't miss a moment with MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app.