National Writer: Charles Boehm

Road warriors Montréal knock off Miami: "We're building for the future"


The happy noises emanating from Chase Stadium’s away locker room matched the scoreboard on Sunday evening, occasionally swelling loud enough to be overheard during head coach Laurent Courtois’ press conference following CF Montréal’s 3-2 win over Inter Miami CF.

Why not? The Quebecois had just dealt mighty Miami their first loss of the 2024 season, taking a share of first place in both the Eastern Conference and overall MLS standings based on points per game.

“Of course they’re happy, because they just beat one of the biggest clubs, if not the biggest team of the league right now,” said Courtois, whose side alternated among aggressive pressing, set-piece opportunism, incisive counterattacking and all-hands-to-the-pump deep defending over the 90-plus minutes in Fort Lauderdale.

And don’t attempt to get pedantic with the Frenchman here by mentioning three of IMCF’s FC Barcelona alumni were not in the starting XI, with Luis Suárez and Sergio Busquets among the reserves and Lionel Messi left off the roster altogether as Tata Martino rotated his lineup amid their Concacaf Champions Cup Round-of-16 series vs. Nashville SC.

Montréal, it must be noted, are starting Courtois’ tenure with six consecutive away games due to frigid winter conditions back home combined with the unavailability of Stade Olympique, their domed alternate home, due to maintenance work on the facility’s problematic roof.

“I know people are going to talk about ‘this guy was missing’ and that,” said Courtois. “OK, fine, but I still don't want to take anything away from what they did, and just want them to enjoy and be rewarded for all the effort and being away from home all this time.

“We're going to spend the whole week here and then fly out directly to Chicago. We're fortunate and privileged to do this. It's also a lot of fatigue too, mental and physical, so I'm happy for the guys.”

Different level

Long road stretches at the start are part and parcel of CFM’s seasons in their MLS era. But this one feels different. Whereas last year they took nary a single positive result from their first five road games before Stade Saputo opened for business, putting first-year coach Hernán Losada in a huge hole right from the jump, today they’re undefeated in their first three, taking seven of a possible nine points (2W-0L-1D).

Courtois has quickly installed some useful tactical variations: After the game veteran holding midfielder Samuel Piette explained in some detail how many different shapes they can and do shift into, depending on the opponent and circumstances. But he’s also turned the schedule from a challenge into an opportunity, focusing on the extra bonding time and esprit de corps it can foster.

“I’m not going to lie. You see the quality that we have on this team and the preparation, the tactical savvy that we have this year, it's, I would say on a different level than the last year,” said Piette. “No disrespect to anyone but yeah, I just think we really had a really good preseason, getting everybody on board, on the same page. We knew last year, our points, our record away was pretty bad, and we needed to change that, we needed to change that mindset.

“And yeah, this is the change of saying, OK, yeah, we're away. Yes, we will probably suffer a little bit more, like we saw today; at times you will suffer. We have to make sure we stay solid, compact as a team and then do the hard work, and with the quality that we have, then we'll be able to punish the other team. We did that obviously off of set pieces, we had two more chances with Matías \[Cóccaro\] today where we could have killed the game, and we have to be better at that. But that's part of the game … Yes, it's tough to be on the road, but you got to collect points, whether it's one or three. And then you move on.”

While Piette confessed to some ambivalence about missing out on a chance to face off with Messi & Co. – who wouldn’t be interested in a chance to lock horns with the GOAT? – that was more than balanced out by Montréal’s desire to mark another milestone in their rebuild under Courtois, and the recognition that Miami’s CCC campaign and resulting schedule congestion could help them in that regard.

“They have the ConcaChampions, so they have also other games to play,” said CFM defender Fernando Álvarez, who opened the scoring with a corner-kick header, his first career MLS goal. “We're thinking about us, so we're not thinking about the other team. We respect them. But the best way to respect them is to play our game. So it doesn't matter if they're playing or not, we always try to win. If they play with all the best players that they have, we will play them the same way.”

Long view

Courtois worked under Wilfried Nancy at Columbus Crew, and on Sunday cited one of his former boss’ favorite sayings: “Who Dares Wins,” the motto of the British Special Air Service. In this match, CFM showed flashes of the sort of expansive passing sequences Nancy is known for, even if Courtois has gotten his project off to a flying start with ample pragmatism, too.

He likes what he’s seen so far from his young, collective-oriented squad.

“They exceeded my expectations in preseason, when I was able to grow with them and experience what I think they’re capable of,” said Courtois. “I'm impressed today because it's Inter Miami, but before that game I was saying that I was not impressed and not surprised neither. The only difference is today I'm a little impressed because it was Inter Miami and it's not easy to make the right decisions in front of that club, those players, and to not give the opportunity to the ref to make a bad call – and credit to the ref today too, that I thought was really strong, too."

Courtois added in French: "We know what we are going to do and why we are doing it, and so much the better if we have had interesting results to begin with. But even then, for us it is how we invest in the future. And in fact, even if we will have a slump, I emphasize that we’re building for the future, and if we manage to grab a few points for the moment, it is beautiful.”