MONTREAL — It took a perfectly executed free kick to end CF Montreal's seven-game unbeaten streak at home.
Montreal's strong performances at home this season – both in Montreal and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – have put the Canadian team in MLS playoff contention, but the seven-game run came to an end with a 1-0 loss to Nashville SC on Saturday night.
Montreal (8-8-7) had not lost at home since May 22 against FC Cincinnati, going 5-0-2.
Montreal's home base was Fort Lauderdale for the first part of the MLS season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We let them (the fans) down," said Victor Wanyama, one of three co-captains for Montreal this season. "We didn’t give our best today and we’re angry about that. They made it very difficult for us today … and we didn’t move the ball as well as we normally do.”
Nashville (10-2-11) captain Walker Zimmerman was the lone goal scorer in the 66th minute.
The visiting side came flying out of the gates at the start of the second half, immediately putting pressure on Montreal’s back line.
Three minutes in, C.J. Sapong found himself alone in the middle of the box and forced a great kick save from James Pantemis.
Pantemis missed the last five weeks of action because of COVID-19 protocols and a stint with the Canadian men's national team.
“I felt like I was back where I belong," said Pantemis. "I’ve been working hard all year. I would be turning up 45 minutes early to get back my fitness and leaving late. Just showing that whenever they needed me I would be ready.”
In the 63rd minute, Pantemis was called on to make another great save on Sapong, stopping the ball from flying into the top left corner.
Nashville continued to press. Three minutes later it paid off when Hany Mukhtar’s perfect free kick found the head of Zimmerman.
Montreal’s best chance to equalize came with 15 minutes left. A beautiful flick from Djordje Mihailovic left Mustafa Kizza all alone with a point-blank shot, but he hit it straight at Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis, who made three saves for the clean sheet.
Despite Montreal spending the rest of the game in the attacking half, they were unable to break down a staunch Nashville back line.
“One team came to play today and the other came to counter, and that’s football,” said Wanyama. “We’ve learnt from the defeat today and all we can do is learn from it and train harder.”
Both sides lined up in 3-5-2 formations and that led to a very close and unwavering first half with few clear-cut opportunities.
While Montreal held the majority of the possession, sloppy defence and giveaways allowed Nashville to have the lion’s share of the shots and were given more open space in the final third.
“Even though we had possession, I found that we were a bit lost,” said Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy. “We lacked precision and we ended up paying for it. We had our chances to equalize but our shape and structure was not good enough.”
Montreal’s next game will be Sept. 15 against Orlando City SC and Nashville will take on Toronto FC on Sept. 18.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2021.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press