Injury bug hits hard as CF Montreal looks to bounce back from opening day loss

MONTREAL — CF Montreal experienced the growing pains that come with a new coach in its Major League Soccer opener, dropping the first game of the Hernan Losada era in a 2-0 on the road to Inter Miami.

Losada now heads into a road match against Austin FC looking to correct course and begin picking up points all while navigating a slew of injuries to the team's defensive corps.

Defenders Joel Waterman, George Campbell, Robert Thorkelsson, and Jojea Kwizera all picked up injuries in pre-season, thinning out what was initially a deep and talented defensive group.

The injuries kept piling up in the season opener, as staring goalkeeper James Pantemis separated his shoulder. While it was knocked back into place during the incident, the club confirmed he suffered some ligament damage, keeping him sidelined for at least three or four weeks.

"Every player is important, and every absence obviously hurts us," Losada said during training leading up to the Austin match. “It’s up to the players to be ready and grab this opportunity with both hands."

Goaltender Jonathan Sirois is a player with just such an opportunity. A fixture of Montreal’s youth academy since the age of 14, Sirois is spending his rookie season with the club’s first team after two years on loan with Canadian Premier League side Valour FC.

Sirois featured in 43 games with the Winnipeg-based team, winning only 16 games but keeping 14 clean sheets.

Montreal has made it a habit of loaning out many promising youngsters and allowing them to get some professional experience before returning to the club. Midfielder Sean Rea is in the same boat, having played with Sirois at Valour for two years.

"I'm not here to compare myself to anyone, I’m just trying to work my hardest every day," said Sirois, who saw his first ever MLS minutes when he came on after Pantemis’s injury. “It’s been a long process and I think the club invested a lot in me to go out on loan and get experience so now it’s time for me to get on the field and just do my best."

Sirois’s likely first ever start will be an enormous test. Touted as one of the best teams in the Western Conference and MLS Cup contenders, Austin was stunned on opening day by losing to expansion St. Louis City and will be looking to right the ship immediately.

Not only does Austin boast one of the best midfields in Major League Soccer, but one of the best attackers in the league in Sebastián Driussi. The Argentine attacking midfielder finished second in MVP voting last season after putting up 22 goals and seven assists, making him priority No. 1 for the Montreal defence.

Injuries to the defence mean the right-side central defender position remains a problem area. Aaron Herrera and Samuel Piette both featured in that role, but the entire backline was unconvincing in possession against Miami and struggled to establish any kind of rhythm.

"We already have a good idea of how they play. We watched their game last week and I watched our meetings last year so that’s why we’ve done a lot of tactical work these last two days," said Losada. "We want to obviously prepare play based on what we know about our opponents, but we don’t want to change too much."

"At the end of the day, we still want to play our own game and our own distinct style."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2023.

Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press