Coach Losada betting on youth as CF Montreal looks for first points.
MONTREAL — The start to the Hernan Losada era at CF Montreal has not gone according to plan, with the still searching for its first goal — let alone its first points — this Major League Soccer season.
CF Montreal (0-2-0) has been outscored 3-0 over two games to start its season-opening road trip and is only one of four MLS teams that have yet to find the back of the net. Next up, they face off against a notoriously difficult opponent in Nashville SC.
Montreal has failed to pick up a win in five pervious meetings with the Tennessee side, and even with reigning MVP and leading scorer Hany Mukhtar battling injury concerns at the beginning of the season, Nashville (1-0-1) still presents a daunting task.
Montreal is not the only Canadian MLS team struggling to start the season. From six games, Montreal, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps have combined to earn a lone point and have scored just five goals while conceding 11.
"The beginning of season for Canadian teams is always difficult with all the travelling, but we still need results," said Losada, who took over from Wilfried Nancy as head coach before the season.
"Nashville is a very difficult team that haven’t conceded this season. They have a style of play they commit to, and it’s obviously paid off."
An accumulation of injuries throughout the pre-season and an influx of youth that has been thrust into the spotlight has created difficulties for Montreal. The squad is among the youngest in MLS with an average age of just over 26 years, and that lack of experience can cause some headaches.
However, the team's goal under sporting director Olivier Renard is to develop and showcase young talent. This season, Montreal has 11 new players through the transfer market, trades, and the return of loaned out players, but only one is over the age of 22 — 25-year-old defender Aaron Herrera.
It's a reality some of the club’s more experienced players will have to get used to.
"Young players need time and opportunity. Right now, we have to make do with what we have, they have shown that they have quality, but it’s a matter of time before they become good," said veteran midfielder Victor Wanyama. "There’s been a lot of transition in the team, and we need a few games to click, but step by step we’re getting there."
One of the biggest adjustments has been new faces on the attack. With the departure of key players like Djordje Mihailovic and Kei Kamara, the brunt of the goal scoring expectations has been placed on Romell Quioto, last season’s club MVP with 15 MLS goals.
The Honduran international developed a special partnership with Mihailovic and the two became one of the most lethal one-two punches in MLS. Now, the onus is on newcomer and homegrown talent Sean Rea to fill in that gap.
Quioto and Rea have had dangerous moments in the opposition penalty area, but have yet to combine for a goal.
“The more we play together, the more our chemistry and understanding improves," Rea said. "We found each other a few times and it’s only going to get better.
"Romell is great with everyone off the field and always makes sure to speak with the younger guys before a game and that does a lot to build trust and a good relationship."
Morale still appears to be high among the Montreal attackers and the belief that they can return to their status as an elite offensive team is there, but it all comes down to creating chances — something the team did well against Inter Miami but struggled last week against Austin FC. That could pose a problem against a staunch Nashville defence that has only allowed five shots on target this year and conceded no goals.
"When you don’t score goals, there are two reasons: either you weren’t clinical in front of goal or you didn’t create opportunities," said Losada. "As long as we have opportunities, the goals and the points will come."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2023.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press