5 Things to Watch Ahead of CF Montreal vs Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia
CHESTER, PA – NOVEMBER 28: Philadelphia Union keeper Andre Blake (18) celebrates with defender Kai Wagner (27) and defender Jack Elliot (3) after winning the game between Nashville SC and Philadelphia Union on November 28, 2021 at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Union kicked off their 2022 MLS campaign with a scrappy 1-1 draw with Minnesota United. But, that’s in the past now, with their next game coming up- their first road trip of the campaign as they take on CF Montreal. Here are five things to watch going into the game. 

How Will Montreal Line-up? 

Montreal kicked off their 2022 MLS campaign with a 2-0 loss to Orlando City…not the best of starts for the Canadian side. In that game, Montreal deployed a 3-5-2 formation and I suspect they’ll do the same for the game against Philadelphia. 

A 3-5-2 formation is a very complex system that can massively benefit both sides of the field. Defensively, the formation will shift to a 5-3-2 with the wing-backs falling back and forming a 5-man unit with the 3 center-backs, making a very tough defensive unit to break down, no matter what system you play. 

Offensively, 3-5-2 works very similar to how the Union’s 4-1-2-1-2 works, where the focus is on the wing-backs to create the space and width for the team down the flanks, while the 3 midfielders have a great responsibility to be great on the ball and create chances centrally for the 2 strikers.  

Montreal will be without striker Romell Quioto after his ridiculously stupid red card against Orlando, so it’ll be interesting to see if Montreal shifts their system around, or whether they just play someone like Kai Kamara in the Quioto role, as they seemed to do when Quioto got sent off. 

Who Will Lead the Line for Philly? 

Funnily enough, this was a thing to watch ahead of the Minnesota game last week. For that game, Mikael Uhre had only arrived in Philly 24 hours before the game and it wasn’t 100% known if Sergio Santos was available for the game (he made an appearance off the bench). This time around it’s the fact that the Union has all the options available to them. 

Mikael Uhre has now been in Philly for a week, experienced what a Union matchday is like, and has had a full week of training with his new teammates but the smart choice would be to have him on the bench and bring him on anywhere between the 60th and 75th-minute mark, so that leaves Carranza, Burke, and Santos. 

Burke and Carranza played very well together against Minnesota and Burke got the goal that I predicted he would in my previous piece, so it’s hard to give a reason as to why you would break them up until Uhre comes in full time. I like Santos as more of an impact sub, let Burke tire the defense out physically and then bring Santos on to terrorize the defenders with his pace. 

Union Need to be More Composed 

I don’t put a lot of stock into the first game of the season in any sport for a multitude of reasons and you expect almost every team to be shaky to start with and they’ll grow into the season after a few games. I think the Union has dropped two points in the long run after the draw against Minnesota, but again, these things happen all across the season. 

The one thing I really didn’t like was how shaky the Union seemed on the ball, specifically the defense, early on in the game. Both center-backs and Mbaizo really struggled with distributing from the back and allowed Minnesota to force them into silly errors, one that lead to the Minnesota goal.  

The composure should come with more games being played but if it doesn’t, the Union will keep putting themselves in tough positions and may even keep putting them in situations where they have to come from behind. 

Wing/Full Backs Will be Key 

I feel like I’ll be saying this every week, given the way the Union play. But it’s also key for Montreal to be successful in this game. 3-5-2 and 4-1-2-1-2 work in a number of similar ways, with the main one being the way the wingbacks and fullbacks have to create the space and width of the team. 

Kai Wagner impressed me (like he always does) with the way he played against Minnesota, both going forward and defensively. However, Mbaizo was a big worry for the Union. Defensively, he looked like a complete liability and he was to blame for Minnesota’s goal. He was good going forward but that’s only half the job. If he’s to stay as the starter for the entirety of the season, he needs to start putting strong performances together because I feel the pressure is on him. 

On the Montreal side of things, wingbacks Alistair Johnson and Zorhan Bassong didn’t seem up to their best during the Orlando game. Johnston couldn’t enjoy any freedom in the final 30 minutes of the game after Quioto’s red card and he looked the better of the two but they both need to improve if Orlando is to have wide attacking options. 

Flach and Martinez Need to Refine Their Defensive Duties 

Overall, I was very impressed with how Jose Martinez played in his defensive midfield role. It’s a key role in the Union’s new system this year and overall, he played well. I thought Leon Flach was okay but he didn’t have his usual stellar performance. Both of them though need to understand their defensive duties when the Union is going forward. 

It’s clear Alejandro Bedoya will be the midfielder that helps take the ball forward and supply Daniel Gazdag and the two forwards, so Leon Flach should be the one who stays a little deeper and helps Martinez out in case of a counterattack. 

Like I’ve said before, Mbaizo and Wagner are the ones who produce the space and width for the Union but this comes at a cost. They leave space in behind that opposition teams will counter through. This was exploited massively by Minnesota throughout the game, but especially early on in the game and it led to some huge chances for Minnesota. 

This comes down to Martinez and Flach understanding that they need to fall back and cover the space left behind by Wagner and Mbaizo, with Flach covering Wagner’s flank and Martinez moving over to help cover Mbaizo’s flank. Martinez will need to have another good performance against Montreal and their star Djordje Mihailovic. 

Philadelphia Union vs Montreal Impact Betting information

Union +200
Draw +220
Impact +130

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Photo By: Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

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