Union returned home to Subaru Park on Wednesday night with the chance of going 8 games unbeaten with a positive result against their visiting opponents in Charlotte FC. Not only did Union do enough to extend their point streak, but were able to grind out a 1-0 win, which marks both their 3rd straight in MLS play and 3rd straight clean sheet at Subaru Park. The win has Union sitting on 27 points which is good enough to land them in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. But it’s a quick turnaround once again for Union, with CF Montreal coming to town on Saturday night.
Union VS CF Montreal preview
Saturday night’s meeting with CF Montreal will be Union’s 3rd game in 7 days. It’s a fixture that has featured a lot of drama, late games heroics, and an abundance of close matches in recent memory. Dating back to October of 2020, neither club has won by more than 1 goal in the two team’s prior 7 matches.
In the first meeting of the 2023 season up in Montreal, 2 goals by Michael Uhre had Union on top inside the 65th minute, but before reaching the 70th minute, Juliana Carranza was given a second yellow and sent off the field. Chinonso Offer and Romell Quioto both scored goals for Montreal after the 90th minute to punish Union for their mistakes and steal all 3 points in shocking fashion.
In the last 10 MLS regular season meetings between them, Union has 4 wins, Montreal has 4 wins, and there have been 4 Union wins, 3 wins for Montreal, and 3 draws.
2023 MLS Season So far
Okay, Montreal has been really hard to figure out this year. Everyone expected a huge dropoff from 2022 after selling various names off to Europe and former head coach Wilfried Nancy shipping out to Columbus, so no one was really too surprised when they lost 6 of their first 7 games, and only scored it 1 (News flash in case you didn’t know – that one win was to Union. That one still hurts).
But people were then really surprised when they turned around and won 4 straight. 15 games into the season, a record of 6 wins 1 draw and 8 losses currently has Montreal on 19 points, which has them sitting at 10th place, just 1 point behind the final playoff spot currently held by Orlando City SC.
CF Montreal gives up a lot of goals, and they don’t really score a ton either. Offensively, They’re currently tied second to last in MLS with just 13 goals scored, which should be a good sign for Union’s backline who’s sitting on 3 consecutive clean sheets at home and look to have things on lock right now.
Montreal currently has the 5th lowest expected goals in MLS (15.4), 5th lowest expected assisted goals, 3rd lowest progressive carries, are dead last in total shots (146) and shots on target per 90 minutes, 3rd to last in total shots on target (49), have the least amount of through balls in the league (5), the least amount of shot-creating actions (254), the least amount of touches in their opponents attacking third (1770), and least amount of touches in their opponents’ penalty area (227). They’re most threatening players in the attack Romell Quioto and Chignons Offor, both with 3 goals a piece. Mathieu Choiniere leads Montreal in total goal contributions with 2 goals and 2 assists.
Defensively, Montreal is a team Union can get after. They’re tied for conceding the 4th most goals in MLS with 24 total, have given up the 6th most shots (73), have the 5th lowest save percentage in the league (68.5%), have the 4th least total tackles (210), and the 3rd least interceptions (122). They’ve had a lot of in and out of their backline over the last 6 months and Montreal is definitely feeling it.
The one thing about Montreal is that they refuse to give in. Down 2-1 at home against Union and they crawl back with 2 late goals to secure their first win of the season. Down 2-0 to DC this past weekend and they score 2 goals in 2 minutes to salvage a point. They’ve shown the ability to fight their way back into games if you let them. This is a game that Union should look to score early, and bury them with the second before they can even find some hope.
For Montreal, in terms of players that I think can have an effect on the game that Union should keep an eye on, I’m going to go with someone that might be a little lesser known in 24-year-old midfielder Mathieu Choiniere. Choiniere is a player who has flown under the radar for Montreal this year but is someone that is going to attack the attention of all the teams they play for.
As I said before, Choiniere is leading Montreal in goal contributions with 2 goals and 4 assists, and leads the team in, total minutes played, expected assisted goals, progressive carries, progressive passes received, total shots, shots on target, key passes, passes into the penalty area, crosses, corner kicks taken, touches in the final 3rd, and shot creating actions.
For Union, someone that I think is going to be important in this game is Leon Flach. With Jack McGlynn still on U-20 International duty and Ale Bedoya still battling an injury, Leon Flach will likely be called upon once again to play in the midfield. After a rocky start to the season that saw Flach lose his starting sport for the more creative Jack McGlynn, Flach has impressed during his recent opportunity to get a decent run of games.
While I wouldn’t be throwing money on Leon Flach to bag a goal for the U, I’ve been really impressed with Leon’s ability to accept the ball and make a forward pass in the last few games, something he’s struggled with in the past. Though neither ended in a goal(that counted) for Union, Leon Flach played both the ball to Juliana Carranza in the first minute on Wednesday night against Charlotte which Carranza rang off the crossbar, and he played the ball over the top to Uhre, who’s goal was called back for offsides.
Flach has always been appreciated for his work rate and his defensive play, but if Union can continue to get even an ounce of creativity from Leon Flach, or even just some stability on the ball, he could create some really interesting competition for playing time in the midfield for this team.
It’s been 3 games in a row now in which Jim Curtin has rolled out the same lineup in the newly adored 5-3-2, and why not? Union has won each of those 3 games and hasn’t lost in 8 overall. I’d like to think with the current injury to Bedoya and McGlynn being on international duty that we’ll see the same lineup again Saturday night, despite this being the club’s 3rd game in a week’s span.
Jim let neither Uhre nor Carranza go all 90 on Wednesday night, so I’d like to think they’ll get the start again, but with Union needing to turn around and travel to San Jose the following week, there is a chance we see some rotation Saturday night. Either way, I’d love to see Jim roll with what’s working, and that’s currently been Uhre and Carranza up top, a midfield trio of Gazdag, Flach, and Jose Martinez, a back 3 of Damion Lowe, Jakob Glesnes, and Jack Elliott, with Oliver Mbaizo and Kai Wagner as wingbacks. As expected, Andre Blake between the posts.
As far as on-field predictions, I’d love for Union to come out and crush Montreal the way they should. Right now it feels like Union is on the verge of breaking out the way they did last season and all the floodgates opening at once. Even in a 1-0 game against Charlotte, I thought Union was unlucky not to score 2 or 3 more goals.
I do think Union will have to grind out another win at home against a tough opponent, but ultimately I think Union get it down at home against their friends from the north by a score of 2-0, earning their 4th straight win, 4th straight clean sheet at home, and 9th straight unbeaten overall. Union has an opportunity to really remind the league that this team remains contenders, despite a slow start following a heartbreaking MLS Cup loss and amidst a deep CCL run.
If you can’t make it out to Subaru Park, the place to be on Saturday nights in the summer, be sure to tune in to see Union take on CF Montreal on Saturday night at 7:30 pm EST on MLS Season Pass via Apple TV.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union