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Montreal midfielder Mihailovic always keen to play longtime rival Columbus

When Djordje Mihailovic was coming up through the Chicago Fire youth academy ranks, the nearby Columbus Crew was a natural rival.

When Djordje Mihailovic was coming up through the Chicago Fire youth academy ranks, the nearby Columbus Crew was a natural rival.

It became a point of pride to play well against the Crew's academy squad, and that rivalry continued after he graduated to Chicago's full MLS side.

Now a midfielder for CF Montreal, Mihailovic can't wait to line up against Columbus on Saturday when the undefeated Canadian squad hosts the Crew at Montreal's temporary home at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"It's funny you bring this up, because I was actually talking to my dad this morning about that," Mihailovic said on a Zoom availability Friday. "Columbus is a team that I've scored the most (MLS) goals against. I've always enjoyed playing against Columbus more so because they're a great team, and when you beat a great team, it's just going to grow your team's confidence."

The 22-year-old has scored in each of the last two seasons against Columbus.

He notched his first goal with his new club in a 4-2 thumping of rival Toronto FC in the season opener for both teams, but last week Montreal squandered a two-goal lead to tie Nashville 2-2.

Cameras caught Mihailovic being vocal with teammates throughout much of the game.

"I'm a competitor and especially in the game like Nashville . . . we lose the lead and we end up tying the game, it is frustrating," he said. "I want to be a leader on the team. I want to push the guys around me. The way I communicate, it is what it is. If it angers my teammates, I'm sorry, it's only because I want to win. I haven't had any negative feedback lately.

"I play this game to win. And whether it's a game like Nashville, or (Saturday versus Columbus), I'm going to speak and help my team as much as I can."

The five-foot-10 midfielder was also the team leader in distance logged last week. Mihailovic ran 12.77 kilometres against Nashville, second in MLS last week only to New York's Sean Davis (12.83).

Mihailovic said every game has its own "personality" and requirements, and his running against Nashville partly reflected the defensive work required.

"I remember when I was training in Germany (with FC Nurnberg) two years ago, we had a meeting after a game, and the first thing the coach did was present the physical data from their game and the data from (opponent) Bayern Munich.

"The whole Bayern Munich team ran over 12 kilometres, so if you want to be a successful team, you're gonna have to run."

Montreal is currently training and playing at the home of Inter Miami CF in Fort Lauderdale due to Canada's travel restrictions around COVID-19. Mihailovic believes being based away from home has helped himself and the team gel more quickly.

"The club has done a great job of making us feel like we're at home, and on a mental side, that's very important to how we play is how are we comfortable off the field," he said. "The idea of us being away from home and away from our families and our home stadium, it's little things like that that could take a toll on a team's performance.

"The group feels really comfortable being down here. We have a fantastic training facility and a great stadium to play in. And we have thank Inter Miami for allowing us to use their facilities."

COLUMBUS CREW (0-0-1) at CF MONTREAL (1-0-1)

Saturday, Fort Lauderdale's DRV PNK Stadium.

BUSY CREW: While Montreal enjoyed a week without a game, the Crew was busy with the CONCACAF Champions League, playing Monterrey to a 2-2 tie on Wednesday in the first leg of the quarter-finals. Last year's MLS Cup champions have played just one league game this season, a scoreless draw with Philadelphia.

LAST SEASON: Montreal beat the Crew 2-1 in Columbus in the only meeting between the two teams. Lassi Lappalainen and Bojan scored in the victory.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press