Nashville’s 2021 season is in full swing. The Boys In Gold welcome newly rebranded Club de Foot Montréal to Nissan Stadium in a Saturday afternoon match. To get the latest on the artist formerly known as the Impact, I checked in with Gregory Caltabanis of SBI Soccer. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @GCaltabanis and check out his coverage at SBISoccer.com.
Ben Wright: It’s been a strange offseason for Montréal, with a controversial rebrand, some big players leaving, and most notably Thierry Henry leaving just before the season started. What’s the mood like in Montréal and how optimistic are supporters about the overall direction of the club?
Gregory Caltabanis: Yeah, no doubt about it. There have been lots of changes in Montréal this offseason between the plethora of signings and the (largely failed) rebrand. Fans are still heavily divided on the club’s new identity with a majority of them still very much against it, but as far as I’m concerned it will become an afterthought if the team starts winning. The win against Toronto FC undoubtedly helped there, but with lots of new faces coming in and a rookie manager, there’s still lots of uncertainty surrounding the team heading into the new season.
BW: Montréal is also playing away from their home, based in Florida for the time being. How have players and staff adapted, and what’s the long term outlook for the club?
GC: The club’s directors have regularly spoken about this and mention how difficult it is for the players and staff. The club went through a steep learning curve last season, trying to divide their time evenly between Montréal and Florida and I think that experience will help them a lot this season. The club’s sporting director Olivier Renard mentioned this factored into many of his offseason acquisitions, targeting young players who may not have kids waiting for them back home. It will be interesting to see if the restrictions are loosened (i.e – mandatory quarantine upon arrival) but as of right now, they must be enjoying the beautiful weather in Florida.
BW: Montréal had maybe the biggest surprise result in Week 1, smashing Toronto 4-2. A lot of people (myself included) picked them to finish last in the East. What does their result against TFC tell you about their prognosis?
GC: I think the win on opening day helps alleviate some pressure of Wilfried Nancy at the helm, but let’s not forget that it’s just one game of 34. After all, TFC were missing three pillars in Jozy Altidore, Chris Mavinga and last season’s MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo. I don’t want to take anything away from the win, but when you factor in TFC’s notable absences and the fact that they were just coming off a taxing two-legged affair against Club Leon, it paints a better picture of the result.
I think it’s pretty clear the club is fostering this “us versus them” mentality this year to spur them into the postseason, but the upcoming game against Nashville will give us a much better picture of what to expect, in my opinion.
BW: How has Montréal’s identity changed under Wilfried Nancy? Has he changed things significantly from Henry, or is he continuing what Henry started to build?
GC: The identity of the club will very much stay the same under Nancy – expect CF Montréal to look to press high up the pitch and be aggressive after losing possession. Obviously, the club’s defensive struggles are a concern and largely proved to be their undoing last year. One of the big reasons Renard hired Nancy was to continue the work Henry was setting the foundation for and to keep working with the club’s vision in mind. After bringing in no fewer than 10 new faces with a particular style of play and philosophy in mind, it makes sense the club went for an internal hire.
BW: Nashville won the only meeting between the two sides 1-0 last year. How do you expect these two to match up on Saturday?
GC: It’s tough to say because CF Montréal is a significantly changed side this year. Djordje Mihailović is a huge boost in the middle of the park, while it will be interesting to see if Mason Toye can build off his impressive performance this weekend.
When you go up against Nashville, you know what to expect. Gary Smith used his first season in charge to build a solid base, prioritizing solidity at the back. I don’t think it’s fair to say that’s all gone down the drain after Nashville’s 2-2 draw against Cincinnati in the opener. I expect an evenly-matched game with one or two moments of brilliance settling it.
BW: If you’re comfortable giving one, do you have a prediction for this one?
GC: Hmmm this is tough. I don’t want to be a homer, but I think CF Montréal pulls this one out by a score of 2-1. Romell Quioto is always a man to watch and has already picked up from where he left off last season with a goal in the opener. As I mentioned, Mihailović adds a new layer to this team in the final third and they’ll need him to be at his best again to open up Nashville at the back and create space.
I’m curious to see if Bjørn Johnsen features at some point for the visitors – he could be used against Nashville’s deep block, offering a physical presence in the box. And of course, CF Montréal is always good value to concede. I can really see it going either way, if I’m being honest. It really depends which CF Montréal shows up on Saturday.
Thanks again to Gregory for his expertise. Make sure to check out his coverage of CF Montréal at SBISoccer.com.