In the words of a world famous boy band originating from right here in Orlando, “Backstreet’s back, all right!” Which is to say of course, that the Major League Soccer season is finally (almost) back. For Orlando City’s first game of the season, the Lions will welcome CF Montreal to Exploria Stadium on Sunday.
CF Montreal made a few additions over the season, with Kei Kamara and Alistair Johnson two names that will be familiar to MLS fans. Out of the new additions, who are you most excited to see?
Paul Vance: Certainly Johnston. This is a high-quality player who’s played an integral part in the Canada’s almost certain World Cup qualification. Dynamic and positive, this is a player who can operate either in the right wingback role or as the right-sided defender as part of a back three, and adds quality from both attacking and defensive perspectives.
That said, it’s the striking department which lacks resources, so whether Montreal’s strategy of recruiting a player who will undoubtedly improve the right side, rather than a marquee striker, pays off or not, remains to be seen. Instead, Montreal has settled for one of the best strikers in MLS history in Kei Kamara, but he’s approaching his 38th birthday. You wonder having struggled to get another MLS contract after Minnesota United and heading off to Finland last season, if Kamara’s once considerable athleticism, aerial presence, and finishing has diminished somewhat. He’s an interesting option, but it looks more like a panic move, rather than anything approaching meticulous planning.
The Concacaf Champions League is often a rough go for MLS teams that haven’t started their seasons yet, especially when they have to face sides with several weeks of games already under their belt. With that being said, do you think Montreal having two competitive matches under its belt will help on Sunday?
PV: Yes, under normal circumstances I would, however, I expect Orlando to be much the fresher side come opening day. The 24-hour delay caused by inclement weather (the team with the snowflake badge falls foul of arctic conditions — go figure!) shortens Montreal’s window of rest between the Concacaf second leg and the MLS season opener. And they have to travel south to Florida Thursday, after what promises to be a grueling contest against the Mexicans. The factors should cancel one another out, so not so sure where the advantage resides, or even if there is one, come Sunday.
If you could only pick one person, which player is the key to Montreal’s success this year?
PV: Djordje Mihailovic — he is the side’s creator-in-chief. Hopefully he will have players in front of him who can finish off his midfield craftiness. Last season he set a Montreal record in MLS with 16 regular-season assists, eclipsing the great Ignacio Piatti.
Are there any injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for this one? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
PV: Heading into the second leg of the Concacaf round of 16, Montreal had two longer term injuries, and fortunately didn’t pick up any more. Key is the absence of striker Mason Toye, but also Ahmed Hamdy will miss the start of the season. Samuel Piette was struggling with an injury preseason too. He missed the first leg against Santos and did not feature in the return leg either. Whether he’s OK for Sunday remains highly doubtful, but we could be surprised. Rudy Camacho is suspended for the red card he got against Orlando in the season finale last year.
Predicted lineup: Sebastian Breza; Joel Waterman, Gabriele Corbo, Kamal Miller; Alistair Johnston, Victor Wanyama, Rida Zouhir, Mathieu Choiniere; Djordje Mihailovic; Romell Quioto
Prediction: I’ve obviously not seen Orlando this season, however, with all the conditions surrounding Montreal right now, they’ll consider a draw a good result. However, I expect Orlando to take this one, probably by 2-1 or 3-1.
Big thanks to Paul for the excellent insight into Montreal. Vamos Orlando!