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The Montréal Preview, Part II

A little over a month ago, Montréal came to Charlotte and handed us one of our few losses at home on the season. Since then, Montréal has slid a bit in the standings (they were 3rd in May and are 5th now), however, they still present quite a challenge.


They are at the top of the East in goals for with 28 and 3rd overall in the league behind only LAFC (30 GF) and Austin (29 GF). You can still score quite a few against them, as they've allowed 27 on the year, however, Charlotte's struggles on the road plus our first-game shutout are major reasons for concern.


Lattanzio's first road game resulted in a point, which only happened once during MAR's reign. I take that as a good sign. As I detailed a few weeks ago, a few road wins are all you need in this league to make the playoffs. Road wins are tough to come by and I wouldn't expect one this weekend. With that said, a draw against a good Montréal òteam would be fantastic.

 

Team

Possession

Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (standing)

WhoScored team rating (SofaScore team rating)

Charlotte FC

53.6%

11.75

4.31

16 (17.8)

19 (21.2)

20 (7th in the East)

6.54 (6.81)

CF Montréal

53.0%

11.60

4.33

28 (21.6)

27 (16.1)

23 (5th in the East)

6.57 (6.82)

The xGA for Montréal continues to be a surprise. The difference between their GA and xGA is enormous at 10.9. In fact, in the East, they're 3rd behind NYCFC (14.6) and Philadelphia (15.7) in xGA, but they're second to last in goals allowed, only behind Toronto who have allowed 29 goals. This deep into the season, my guess would be it is poor defense and goalkeeping which are leading to all of these goals.


I do find the comparison of the teams' possession, shots/90, and SoT/90 stats to be interesting. These are basically the same teams when it comes to these stats, yet one is racking up the goals while the other isn't. The xG tells part of the difference, as the quality of shots Montréal is creating is higher than Charlotte's. I think the encouraging thing from a Charlotte perspective is that we don't need to improve our possession, shots/90, or SoT/90 to get better results. We just need to create better chances with what we're already doing. That's not new or easy to do, but should be the goal.

 
Montréal vs. Austin, 6/18, via MLS
Montréal vs. Austin, 6/18, via MLS

Injury/Suspension

Montréal continues to roll with a 3-4-2-1 and the same Starting XI (for the most part). Of course, the big miss for them is Djordje Mihailovic, who is out for a few weeks with an ankle injury. The MLS Availability Report and transfermarkt both have him listed as out. MLS also has Tomas Giraldo (hamstring), Bjorn Johnsen (foot), Kamal Miller (leg), and Lassi Lappalainen (health & safety protocols) out. Lappalainen and Miller are other big misses. If Lappalainen can clear the health and safety protocols, he would be a big addition back into this team. Miller was a staple for them in the back three, so if he continues to miss time, an already vulnerable defense will be even worse off.


Without Mihailovic, Montréal has used Matko Miljevic in his role. Without Lappalainen, interestingly, Montréal put Mathieu Choinière out wide. Choinière had been starting in the middle of the midfield alongside Victor Wanyama. Miller's replacement has been the most straightforward, as Joel Waterman, Rudy Camacho, and Gabriele Corbo have all started several games for this team, even before the Miller injury.

 

Rather than going through the team as I usually do, I don't see much change in who is playing for Montréal. If you want to read more about the entire team, see my first preview. Instead, I am going to focus on a few players who should be of interest to Charlotte's game plan.


Matko Miljevic

Miljevic got the start in Mihailovic's place for the last game playing as a left-sided CAM right behind the striker. Miljevic's professional history is interesting. From my first preview:

Miljevic is a young American (21) who actually began his career in Argentina. He only appeared in 6 games (2 starts) for Argentinos Juniors (scoring 1 goal). He moved to Montréal in 2021 and has appeared in 12 games for them. He only has 1 career goal in MLS (last year).
Miljevic heatmap 2022, via SofaScore
Miljevic heatmap 2022, via SofaScore

Well, he still hasn't scored this year or chipped in an assist. Further, what I find most interesting about Miljevic is the disconnect between his heatmap and his stats. Just by looking at his heatmap, he doesn't look like a player who is super involved, however, before the last game he wasn't getting a ton of playing time.


On a per 90 basis, his numbers show a player who can (and probably will) be more involved. He's at 59.4 touches/90, which is just ahead of Mihailovic's 59.2. He's at 3.05 SCAs/90, which is behind Mihailovic's 3.79. What these two numbers hint at, though, is Miljevic's potential to fill in for Mihailovic in a real way.


Now the obvious caveat when talking about Miljevic is the lack of playing time. At only 3.3 90s on the year, these per 90 stats come with a HUGE "small sample size" warning. These stats also show that Montréal is not changing its tactics just because they are missing Mihailovic. Those touches/90 show a club asking a different player to play the same role Mihailovic was playing. The question becomes, can he do it? The end product is nowhere near what Mihailovic was producing, but it should be remembered that Mihailovic's goal-scoring form this season was also unprecedented for him (his previous high was 4 last year). I'm very curious to see if Montréal sticks with Miljevic during Djordje's absence and if Miljevic starts to produce. At the moment, it's impossible to know if he can, but the talent seems to be there.


Alistair Johnston

Johnston heatmap 2022, via SofaScore
Johnston heatmap 2022, via SofaScore
Johnston shooting percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref
Johnston shooting percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref

Johnston is the starting right-wingback, although he didn't start last week. He's a machine on that righthand side, getting up and down the pitch all game. He's in his first season with Montréal after having come over from Nashville. He's already having a career year with a goal and 3 assists. At only 23, he's just starting to come into his own as a player.


Defensively, he's not great yet. He pressures ell in the midfield as he's in the 81st percentile in middle 3rd pressures. He's in the 70th percentile for tackles, 71st percentile for tackles in the middle 3rd, and 69th percentile for tackles in the attacking 3rd. Aside from that, none of his defensive metrics jump out as anything special and some are pretty poor. For example, he doesn't tackle dribblers well (21st percentile) or make a lot of interceptions (14th percentile).

Johnston passing percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref
Johnston passing percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref

Of course, his offensive contributions are why he's in the team. His shooting profile above shows a player who excels at getting forward for his position. What stands out to me are his average shot distance and goals/shot versus his shots total. He's a player who isn't taking a ton of shots but when he does, he does well with them and takes them from good positions.


He's an ambitious passer. Initially, the short passing looks to be a weakness for him. However, when you take a step back, you see what appears to be a tactical choice rather than an ability issue. The fact is, he's not attempting a ton of short passes, but when he does, he completes them. Compare that to some of his other passing stats. These are three that jumped out to me:

  • 86th percentile for total passing distance

  • 89th percentile for long passes completed

  • 89th percentile for passes into the final third

If you are a player who can attempt and make these more difficult passes, then the fact you're not doing much over short distances is completely acceptable and understandable.

Johnston pass types percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref
Johnston pass types percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref

When we delve even deeper into his passing, we see more evidence of an aggressive and progressive passer. In the 82nd percentile for through balls and the 92nd percentile for passes under pressure, Johnston is a player who is comfortable on the ball and is willing to draw players in so that he can release a teammate in behind. This is a personal preference, but I love a fullback who isn't just chucking high crosses into the box. He's in the 66th percentile for crosses and the 68th for high passes. Everyone loves a good header, but the fact is those are low percentage chances. Getting to the byline and getting some low crosses or passes into the box are usually much better options.


Now, if there might be one weakness to Johnston's game is that he appears to be incredibly one-footed. He's in the 88th percentile for right-footed passing, but only the 11th percentile for left-footed passing. You would like to think a team could force him onto his left foot, but based on the rest of his numbers, I'm not sure you can. With that said, I'd be asking my left-sided players to not let him get on his right foot in dangerous areas when at all possible.


Sebastian Breza

I do not believe Breza is a good goalkeeper. Below are his percentiles over the past 365 days, which account for a total of 23 starts:

Breza goalkeeping percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref
Breza goalkeeping percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref
Breza advanced goalkeeping percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref
Breza advanced goalkeeping percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref

None of this is good. Sure he's doing a good job of completing passes when he launches them, but that isn't really a primary skill one looks for in a goalkeeper. One of the frustrations of goalkeeping stats is how you parse out a keeper's ability versus the defense that is in front of him. At this point in time with the stats we have available, I don't think you really can. At the same time, when you see a profile like this, I don't think you can solely blame a defense.


In fairness to Breza, he does face shots of above-average difficulty (68th percentile for PSxG/SoT), but I still want my goalkeeper to save more than he does. With a PSxG+/- of -4.4 on the season, we're looking at a goalkeeper who, by the numbers, appears to be very much below average. Lest we think that any goalkeeper would struggle with their PSxG+/- numbers on a team that allows a ton of goals, Toronto's Alex Bono has a PSxG+/- of +3.9 even though Toronto, again, has allowed the most goals in the East (29).


This makes our shutout to Montréal all the more frustrating. Charlotte continues to be the only team that Montréal has shutout all year. Whether Breza's numbers are indicative of a bad defense, poor ability, or a combination of the two, the fact remains you have to score against them. To not score is simply inexcusable.


Conclusion

Montréal is a good team, but Charlotte might just be catching them at the right time. With no Mihailovic and the potential absences of key players like Miller and Lappalainen, Charlotte could be facing a below-strength Montréal team. There's still talent in the squad in the form of Joaquín Torres and Victor Wanyama, among others, but their attack has suffered without Mihailovic (as you would expect).


Defensively, the team remains poor. I said this in the last preview:

In the end, Montréal has its defense set up to attack. It almost feels like their primary defensive game plan is to outscore the opponent. It explains why they haven't had a clean sheet all year. It's a strategy that is risky, but works if you can consistently score (they've shown they can). None of these defenders are great at, well, defending, so you would hope that would lead to some good chances for Charlotte. I think a front 3 of Jóźwiak, Świderski, and Shinyashiki could really cause them some problems.

Nothing much has changed in my assessment of this team. We may not win and we may not draw, but if we don't score again, this fanbase has to riot.


On the Charlotte side, I'm still just looking for progress. As we head into Lattanzio's 3rd game, I would like to start seeing consistency in tactics and strategy (I'm not saying we haven't seen this, but just that with only 2 games we can't tell yet). With international breaks over, I'm hoping we can finally see a full-strength squad under him.


Świderski is the player I'm most interested in seeing in Lattanzio's setup. He started the season on fire and then hasn't produced much since. However, whenever I watch him play, I can't help but see his talent and technique; it's impossible not to. He's a player who has everything you could want in a center-forward: goalscoring ability, passing, technical quality on the ball, and energy. Unlocking Świderski is the key to this team getting going both at home and away. Ríos has filled in admirably, but, to me, he offers nowhere near the same quality. At the end of the day, a striker's primary job is to score goals and Świderski hasn't been, but he has too much talent for that to continue. It's up to him and Lattanzio to start making it happen.


Prediction: Montréal 2 - Charlotte 2

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