California has not been kind to FC Dallas this season, as another game on the west coast ends in defeat. But Dallas had to pack their bags and move on quickly because a trip to the other side of the continent begins as Dallas take on the Montreal Impact. Montreal is tied for seventh place in the Eastern Conference with both Orlando and Toronto on 33 points. Dallas has now slipped below the playoff line and are in eighth in the Western Conference with 36 points.
I won’t lie to you, dear reader – I have struggled with this preview. Between the ill feelings about another FC Dallas loss, a quick turnaround to the next game, and the changes Montreal have made, it has not been an easy write up. But enough moaning and complaining, let’s look at a team in even worse form than Dallas. Montreal have lost two in a row and six of their last seven games. After flying relatively high the first few months of the season, summer has not been kind to the Canadians. So, with the transfer deadline looming, Montreal decided to make a bold move to reignite their playoff chase.
The signing of Spaniard Bojan Krkic, known as Bojan, has the potential to payoff big time for Montreal. The one-time Barcelona man needs little introduction to most fans of the sport, but here’s a brief history. Bojan started his career at La Masia before being promoted to the Barcelona first team at 17. From there, spells in Italy, Holland, England, Germany, and elsewhere in Spain have followed. He was once the “new Messi.” Spoken from people inside Barcelona, who should know better. But history is for text books and right now, this is about Bojan and how he can hurt FCD.
Which is partially why it has been so hard to write this. Word is that Bojan will make his first start against Dallas. His natural position is absolutely a no. 10, right in the heart of the action. But Montreal rarely lineup in a suitable formation to accommodate him. He has all the passes in his bag of tricks; great vision to see things others can’t; and the technique to pull off anything he dares to try. Last week I said Jonathan Do Santos should be one of the best midfielders in MLS. Bojan should – should – be able to walk in and be that from day one for Montreal. And he will have plenty of help too. Ignacio Piatti is one of the best players in MLS, especially over the past three seasons. But injuries have kept the star man out for most of this season. He returned three weeks ago and in his first game back had an assist. His usual spot in the lineup as a second striker/roaming winger/no. 10 will be difficult to figure out if Bojan does in fact start. The two aren’t necessarily similar in style, but certainly like to occupy the same spaces. Piatti is comfortable running at and through an entire defense before whipping in a shot. Bojan is more facilitator and chance creator. Melding their tactical nous and positioning will be a nifty trick.
The pair of Piatti and Bojan can form an elite attacking group all by themselves but add in the blossoming midfielder Saphir Taider and Montreal has the makings of a conference topping attack. While Piatti has been out, Taider has carried the burden. He leads the team with nine goals and is second on the team with four assists. He is a perfect box to box midfielder next to the other pair. He can help create in the attack as well as hold his own in the tackle.
This leads us to another figure who could become a key cog, our former beloved striker, Maxi Urruti. Maxi is having his normal atypical striker season with only two goals but leading the team with six assists. But that is what could make Maxi even more dangerous. His playmaking from the striker position is rare and with Piatti back, and another playmaker in Bojan pulling defenses away, Maxi and Taider will have so much more freedom and space that the fluidity and dynamics have a chance to put Montreal in elite company. I could go on and on about the possibilities these four players could create for Montreal, but I’ve drooled enough. There are other player playing that Dallas will need to take care of as well.
Assuming those four above start as some form of striker (Urruti), central attacking mid (Bojan), left wing/striker (Piatti), and left side box-to-box mid (Taider), that leaves Orji Okwonkwo on the right wing and probably Shamit Shome as the other central mid. This could also be where Samuel Piette slots in should Montreal need more bite in the middle of the field. Okwonkwo is no slouch either. His six goals are second on the team this season. He’s more striker than wing man, but has spent most of his time placed outside, which allows him to cut inside and attack. Shome is a second-round draft pick from 2017 who’s starting to make good on his potential.
The back line is where Dallas can feel there is hope. Daniel Lovitz is a tough leftback but offers little going forward. Bacary Sagna may be old, but he’s still putting in a solid shift at right back. (To be honest, I can’t say anything bad about one of my all-time favorite players in Sagna, so take “solid shift” with a grain of salt.) At center back, Montreal just sold their leading man, Zakaria Diallo, to a French team, so that leaves Jukka Raitala in one spot next to a back-up’s, back-up - probably Rudy Camacho. Lucky Dallas, a 36-year-old rightback and a fresh pairing in the middle. In goal will be keeper Evan Bush.
I would tell you how Montreal plans to attack, but when you integrate players like Bojan, formations and tactics tend to change. I expect the ball to be funneled to Piatti as much as possible out on the wing where he can partner with Taider and Bojan. We know Urruti will press our midfielders and backline relentlessly, but it will be interesting to see the affect of playing with a healthy Piatti and Bojan. Both will carve out the space he normally operates in, but I don’t expect him to drift out wide very much. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Taider and Bojan almost reverse positions as Bojan drops deep for the ball to create and Taider makes a run up the middle or out wide. Like I harped on earlier, Bojan could totally transform how Montreal plays. Likewise, he might not fit in yet, or ever, but the potential is there.
Key Matchup: Reggie Cannon vs Ignacio Piatti
When healthy, there may be no greater threat on the left wing than Piatti in all of MLS. Maybe Diego Rossi from LAFC, but that’s about it. Last season the Argentinian had 16 goals and 13 assists. He had 17 goals each of the previous two seasons before that. He is the type of player who can win a game all by himself. Reggie has NOT had as good a season as last year. I blame myself for that. After calling him out and doubting him for most of the year, he delivered time and again. But I’ve failed to mention him much this season, that’s on me… But in truth, he will have a tough task in this one. We need the Reggie who showed up for the Gold Cup with a point to prove to show up at club level again.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Diversify the Attack –What was beautiful about the Minnesota game was how diverse the attack looked. A ridiculous Santiago Mosquera goal (definitely a shot) aside, seeing Brandon Servania show up in the six-yard box twice was lovely too see. Seeing Ryan Hollingshead and Cannon galloping down the flank and into the box created both goals for themselves, but also new options for Paxton Pomykal and Michael Barrios to connect with. Dallas needs those fresh ideas in attack if they want to win this game and make it to the playoffs.
2. Clean Up, Player #2 – As mentioned above, not a great season for Reggie. His foul that lead to the PK, well, they don’t teach that at practice. But there were mistakes across the back line last week (paging Reto Ziegler) and they need to get cleaned up pronto.
3. Learning Consistency – Mentioned waaaaay back at the beginning of the season by everyone here at Big D, playing young guys means less consistency week to week, even half to half. Much was the case in LA where Dallas certainly held their own in the first half but were totally outplayed for most of the second one. But now is the time where the youngins should be making progress. Time to prove the lesson’s have been learned.
Boy, I have been gushing a heck of a lot about the seventh (or ninth) best team in the L-Eastern Conference. It’s all a bit much. Shouldn’t Dallas be handling, rather comfortably, a team like this? Yes! Yes, they should. On paper, Dallas clearly has the better keeper, backline, and half a midfield. But if a team has a transcendent talent (like Piatti) in attack in MLS, they always have a chance. Add in the fact that Bojan, while probably not transcendent (and probably, definitely not as transformative as I’ve stated… probably) can still make a big impact in this league. Add in how poor Dallas has looked lately and especially on the road (3-1-9!) and this isn’t looking good. Starting with this game, Dallas has every chance to climb back into the playoffs with a cushy final stretch to end the season against teams in the bottom half of the league table. But, for all the reason’s mentioned above (and more in my head) I don’t think this ends well. I think another 2-0 loss is in the cards. Please, please prove me wrong Dallas.