CF Montreal – Match Report vs. Cruz Azul (09/03/2022)

A youthful CF Montreal side fell 1-0 to Cruz Azul in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final. The Canadian side was outshot 19-1 and their 3-4-1-2 formation frequently got them into trouble. They were fortunate to only concede once but they had a very similar performance in the away leg during the round of 16 so don’t count them out just yet. 

Ratings:

  • A1 – Very good, could play higher
  • A2 – Strong potential to play higher
  • B1 – Good, strong player at level
  • B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
  • C – Average for the level, re-watch
  • D – Below average in this match

Ismael Kone

  • Nationality: Canada/Cote D’Ivoire 
  • Age: 19
  • Date of Birth: June 16th, 2002
  • Current Club: CF Montreal
  • Career: Saint-Laurent, CF Montreal
  • Position: Centre Midfielder
  • Preferred Foot: Right 

If you are the type of guy who likes to tell people that you knew about a player before he was well known (and you are reading this website so I presume you are this sort of person) then Isamel Kone is a name you should know. An unspecified technicality prevented him from signing his first pro contract in 2021 but he’s finally up and running, already seemingly establishing himself as a regular starter for Montreal. In this match, he showed a few areas for improvement but also a lot of strengths that portend extremely high potential. Kone’s biggest strength is his ability to shuttle the ball between the defence and attack. His passing was very crisp and accurate. He did not have a lot of huge flashy long balls but he played good forward passes that did not put his teammates in bad situations consistently. He also had a couple of very nice moments where he was able to use his skill to get around players who were pressuring him. However, this wasn’t necessarily a skill he was able to utilize consistently as he struggled a little bit under pressure a few times as well, especially in the first half. In space he was fantastic but under pressure, he still needs a bit of work. Kone is very tall and quick. When he gets up to speed he can be hard to stop. His physical ability allowed him to poke the ball away from opposing players using his long limbs and to accelerate onto loose balls to regain possession. That being said, he was ghosted past a couple of times when defending against a dribbling opponent. So 1v1 defending is probably an area for improvement. Another problem was that he didn’t do a great job of making himself available for passes out of the back. He was often almost hiding behind opposing defenders. Kone would be a lot more effective if he were better at moving into pockets of space and opening them up with his off-the-ball movement. 

Rating: A2

Kone has all of the technical and physical ability to grow into a top box-to-box midfielder. He showed some weaknesses but considering he is 19 and this was his 4th professional game against a very strong opponent I think he showed a lot to like. 

Djordje Mihailovic

  • Nationality: American
  • Age: 23
  • Date of Birth: November 10th, 1998
  • Current Club: CF Montreal
  • Career: Chicago Fire, CF Montreal 
  • Position: Attacking Midfielder 
  • Preferred Foot: Right

Mihailovic was largely frustrated in this match. Montreal did not start the game with any natural strikers, partly due to injuries and suspensions. Natural wingers Joaquin Torres and Lassi Lappalainen struggled to provide the cutting edge needed to break down Cruz Azul, even when Mihailovic was able to get them the ball. He did show some of the skill that makes him an effective player in more favourable circumstances. He has a good range of passing, a volleyed through ball to Zoran Bassong being the highlight. But his teammates were not able to make the most of these passes and he was not able to unlock the Cruz Azul defence solo. I went back and watched most of his passing actions on Wyscout after the game and the number of times he made a good pass to someone who just did nothing with it was astounding. He looked a little more effective once Montreal brought on Kei Kamara, just because there was an actual outlet for him to aim for. This does suggest that he is best when playing behind at least one natural striker and a future as a Kai Havertz style 9/10 hybrid is not in his future. His dribbling was not terribly impressive, he dribbled right into opposing defenders. His first touch was also a bit on the heavy side which lead to some giveaways, especially when he dropped deeper into midfield to try and get on the ball more. One thing that stands out about Mihailovic is that he is very strong for a #10. He was able to win most physical duels that he contested. He is not necessarily a giant at 5’10 and 161 pounds but he is wiry and strong, allowing him to bring a different dynamic to the position.  

Rating: B2

This was not the ideal circumstance to view Mihailovic in so it was not the most impressive performance of his career by any means. Still, he had 14 assists in MLS last season so clearly, he is an effective player at his current level. He has recently been linked with a move to Leeds United. I think he would do fine there but games like this, I think, show some of his shortcomings that would prevent him from being more than a squad player at that level. This may sound slightly harsh but, remember, you still have to be an incredibly good player to be a squad player at the Premier League level. 

Alistair Johnston

  • Nationality: Canadian 
  • Age: 23
  • Date of Birth: October 8th, 1998
  • Current Club: CF Montreal
  • Career: St John’s Red Storm, Wake Forrest Demon Deacons, Nashville SC, CF Montreal.
  • Position: Centre Back/Right Back
  • Preferred Foot: Right

Johnston started on the right side of a back 3 which was frequently exposed by Cruz Azul. One of Johnston’s biggest strengths has always been his ability to defend in 1v1 situations. But he wasn’t able to show those skills very often in this match because Cruz Azul used big switches of play into the area between the wide centre-backs and the wing-backs. He and Zachary Brault-Guillard often had runners getting in the space between them, totally unmarked, and they were very lucky to not concede any goals that way. It’s hard to say to what extent Johnston was at fault and to what extent it was a systemic issue. Tracking runners between the centre-back and the wing-back was also a big problem on the other side, indeed it was the cause of the only goal of the game. He did ok in the few moments he was defending against one other player directly but the poor spacing of Montreal’s defence seemed to limit what he was able to do because there was always so much space for the opponent to move or pass into. One strength that Johnston was able to show was his ability to progress the ball through passing. Johnston mostly looked comfortable with the ball and was able to play accurate and progressive passes. I said he mostly looked comfortable on the ball because he also had one dreadful first touch that lead to a chance against. Fbref credits him with only 0.35 miscontrols per 90 minutes last season so this type of awful touch is not typical of his play but it was a bad moment for Johnston. 

Rating: B2

Montreal’s team defence as a whole was very bad and it’s not easy to say how much of that should be pinned on Johnston specifically. But there is no denying this was not his best outing. He has done well against strong opponents in the past with good performances against the Mexican and American national teams on his CV. But I would need to see that level of performance a bit more consistently before recommending a big step up in competition. 

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