After a fantastic midweek win in the CONCACAF Champions League against Club Leon, Toronto FC looked beaten and battered before the whistle even blew on Major League Soccer’s opening day. The Reds looked lackluster throughout the match, struggling to put up a fight against a Montreal defense full of mistakes. This is our tactical analysis of Montreal’s 4-2 win over Toronto FC on the opening round of the 2021 Major League Soccer season.
cf montreal – 3-4-1-2
Wilfried Nancy set up CF Montreal in their favoured 3-4-1-2 formation, the same as Thierry Henry utilized throughout his time at the club. The width in the wing-back positions from Canadian international Zachary Brault-Guillard and Ugandan Mustafa Kizza troubled TFC all game long, as they struggled to cope with Montreal’s stretching of the field and their runs on the ball in-field. Samuel Piette and Victor Wanyama also had an easy afternoon at the heart of the midfield up against Michael Bradley and Ralph Priso-Mbongue, while the interchange of Mason Toye, Romell Quioto and Djordje Mihailovic caused chaos for Armas’ defense.
in possession & build-up
CF Montreal attempted to play out from the back at every opportunity, utilizing width from their centre-backs and a 3-2 box structure from their back-three and two central midfielders. Their wing-backs would remain relatively low to engage themselves as part of the build-up, and would often be the source of the second or third pass in the move. But after receiving the ball, the wing-backs would often look to play backwards to a centre-back or sideways to a central midfielder, rather than driving up the field at speed. Although Montreal were never all that effective in breaking into Toronto FC’s half through their build-up, the Reds were also ineffective in stopping Montreal from passing the ball around and didn’t press with any intensity or desire to win the ball back.
Mihailovic’s positioning in and around the TFC midfield two also caused problems for Bradley and Priso-Mbongue, as Okello’s positioning in the Reds’ 4-4-2 press meant Nancy’s team always had a 3v2 advantage in midfield areas and were able to control the game for long spells of the first half.
Further forward, the wing-backs were key to Montreal’s attack, often drifting inside with the ball and adding more chaos for TFC in an already congested central midfield area. The strikers were deadly on the break, and Montreal scored several of their goals on the counter through incisive pace and movement off the ball.
out of possession
Montreal defended with a 5-2-1-2 shape, but without much compactness in stopping TFC hitting through-balls and passes into the gaps between the outside centre-backs and Camacho. Shaffelburg found himself in space and through on goal on more than a few occasions before his substitution, and Joel Waterman never looked comfortable with his movement. But after going 3-1 up, TFC’s inability to adequately break down the wide areas meant that Montreal were able to sit deep in a low-block and let the Reds have the ball. Kizza and Brault-Guillard were excellent in stopping the Reds’ attacks out wide in the second half, with Laryea only breaking through and scoring after Kizza’s departure from the match. Bradley’s dominance of the TFC midfield also stunted their attack in breaking Montreal down, as the Reds became very predictable in looking for passes in between the centre-backs that never came off after Shaffelburg’s substitution.
toronto fc – 4-2-3-1
Toronto FC couldn’t cope with the pace of the match and looked out of sorts right from the first whistle. Their 4-2-3-1 formation was easily exposed, as several tired legs never got up to speed. Noble Okello looked particularly out of place up against one of the most experienced midfield partnerships in the league, while youngsters Ralph Priso-Mbongue and Luke Singh struggled with their positioning throughout the match. Jacob Shaffelburg was the only youngster who showed promise in the match from the start, but lacked experience and decisiveness in the final third. Auro and Richie Laryea also struggled defensively, often failing in the decision of who to track between the striker’s movement out wide and the wing-back’s movement in-field.
The Reds defended in a 4-4-2 defensive shape. Their defensive block was evidently supposed to be a high-press, but never had the makings of any positive attributes you would associate with pressing. There was no intensity, aggression, or any bit of desire to win the ball back. Noble Okello often struggled to get up in time alongside Patrick Mullins, while the midfield two were over-run by Montreal’s midfield three.
It’s no secret that TFC never looked up to speed in the match. After all, they conceded four goals. Some of them were down to key individual errors, while others were just a function of the entire team lacking focus and stamina. In the first half, Richie Laryea often found himself too high up the field, leaving Montreal’s left side exposed. Auro meanwhile looked exposed in more of a self-destructive kind of way. He stuck to his tasks against Zachary Brault-Guillard to some degree and had positive moments in winning the ball back for the Reds, but it was his loose touches on both the first and second goal that allowed Montreal to attack. Despite that, the Brazilian was the only member of the team providing any sort of defensive stability until Liam Fraser entered the scene. This in itself speaks volumes to the way Armas’ team played. While Auro has a flamboyant edge and can be a decent progressor of the ball, he should not be the most reliable defender in a match of this magnitude.
In the second half, Toronto FC gained momentum and picked up more of the ball, as Montreal sat back and defended. They built out from the back in a box shape that incorporated the two centre-backs and two central midfielders, and primarily utilized passes between Laryea, Bradley and Auro to break Montreal down. Ralph Priso-Mbongue also offered some incisive forward passes, but Bradley’s dominance on the ball meant that the 18-year-old was never truly able to showcase any real magic. Liam Fraser on the other hand completely took over TFC’s possession after his arrival to the match, acting as the deep-lying-playmaker by which the Reds were able to switch play and find Laryea in space.
Higher up the field, TFC’s fullbacks often inverted, particularly as the match wore on. Justin Morrow’s addition to the back-line pushed Auro higher up the field and into central areas, while Richie Laryea also inverted himself and allowed the right-winger to maintain the width on that side instead. On the few occasions that the Reds were able to work the ball into Laryea, he looked positive. The Canadian defender provided an excellent cross into the penalty area at the start of the second half that nobody attempted to meet, and then scored a fantastic goal in the dying moments of the match.
Shaffelburg also looked positive in the match, but lacked adequate decision making in the final third. His movement off the ball was too much for Joel Waterman to handle, but he missed a great chance to level the score at 1-0 and often delayed his decision-making in the box. Montreal could have been exposed and vulnerable if TFC had threatened more, but ultimately the Reds couldn’t break Wilfried Nancy’s team down.
Toronto FC looked out of sorts in their opening MLS fixture against CF Montreal, and will be hoping their injury list shortens for the next match. Wilfried Nancy’s team were effective in playing to their strengths and breaking down TFC’s young lineup, including utilizing their width from the wing-backs and midfield overloads to break down Chris Armas’ team. By the next time these teams play the score-line could be flipped completely, but it was not the start Chris Armas was hoping for as the new Toronto FC manager.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Toronto FC’s shocking defeat to CF Montreal. Be sure to check out more of our Match Analyses, and follow on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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