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CF Montreal look to raise their standard against D.C. United

MONTREAL — CF Montreal's 0-0 draw Saturday against Nashville SC wasn't celebrated with confetti and streamers, but the team's soul-searching amid a difficult stretch appears to be over.
L'entraîneur-chef du CF Montréal, Laurent Courtois, réagit à un appel de l'arbitre lors de la deuxième demie d'un match contre le Nashville SC, le 25 mai 2024. LA PRESSE CANADIENNE/Peter McCabe

MONTREAL — CF Montreal's 0-0 draw Saturday against Nashville SC wasn't celebrated with confetti and streamers, but the team's soul-searching amid a difficult stretch appears to be over.

The challenge now is for Montreal (3-7-4) to raise the bar when D.C United (4-5-6) visits Saputo Stadium in Major League Soccer play Wednesday night.

Montreal has had intensity issues during a nine-game winless streak (0-5-4) across all competitions.

Against Nashville, however, Montreal presented a consistent effort and showed ambition, signs it might be starting to pull its head above water.

The performance pleased head coach Laurent Courtois, but he says it shouldn't stop there.

"The guys performed in areas of the game that we expect," Courtois said Tuesday before a training session at the Centre Nutrilait. "The challenge for me and my staff is to see how this becomes a standard and not a one-off. For now, it's positive, and it's the base, but we'll see if we can add a bit more precision in the final third."

Courtois's squad threatened in Nashville's half and took a few quality shots, but lacked precision and finishing at the opponent's net. The intentions were good, with a few exceptions.

Jules-Anthony Vilsaint and Ariel Lassiter had chances to open the scoring for Montreal but opted for shooting over passing.

Vilsaint blamed himself for forcing the play.

"We don't want to do too much, but it's true that during tough times, we want to elevate our level of play," the striker said. "I believe that comes with experience. I've always said I take a lot of shots and that I'm not selfish, but at that moment, I should have made a pass to Mathieu (Choinière). It was my fault."

Courtois also explained how he could help his players get out of their funk.

"It's about continuing to insist on situations and choices, trying to clarify the message," he said. "It's not a question of taking the blame or not. It's about making adjustments for next time. I don't want my players to self-criticize. There's a set of choices that very good players make to help the team win, and these opportunities will come for them too. It's about knowing how to maximize these situations."

Montreal will need to maximize them on Wednesday. D.C. is known for giving headaches to attackers while relying heavily on star forward Christian Benteke for offence.

Benteke, who has already scored 11 goals this season, is one of MLS's best players in the air and when the ball comes into the box, he is often in a good position to cause problems for the opposition.

Montreal will have to be sharp to counter the six-foot-three striker.

"Got to win (the aerial duels) and if you don't win them, get the second balls, especially with Benteke," midfielder Bryce Duke said. "You've got to be a bit smarter in terms of maybe you bump him before he goes up so you kind of throw him off balance.

"He's probably the guy that wins the most headers in the league so it's going to be tough to compete with that, but I'm sure coach has a game plan and we'll see what that is."

Courtois announced that striker Raheem Edwards and midfielder Nathan Saliba would be back for Wednesday's match. Forwards Kwadwo Opoku (ankle), Matias Coccaro (knee) and Mason Toye (hamstring) are progressing well, while striker Josef Martinez (knee) returned to Montreal a few days ago.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2024.

Simon Servant, The Canadian Press