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CF Montreal prepares for 'Messi Mania' against Inter Miami tonight on TSN

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MONTREAL — Just the thought that he may come face to face with Lionel Messi has CF Montreal captain Samuel Piette pinching himself.

Piette grew up watching the man many consider the greatest footballer ever dash down the wing and toy with defenders at FC Barcelona.

On Saturday, the global icon will make his first professional trip to Canada as Montreal plays host to Messi's Inter Miami CF in Major League Soccer action at Stade Saputo.

Watch the game LIVE Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT on TSN5, TSN.ca and the TSN App.

The 29-year-old Piette has faced his fair share of top talent in his professional and international career, but Messi “is a different beast.”

“He's from a different planet,” Piette said Friday. “To have the chance to face him where he's still performing, it's unbelievable.

"Messi is for me the greatest of all time, the GOAT.”

Messi’s achievements are unmatched in the game of soccer. The Argentine superstar is an eight-time Ballon d’Or recipient as the best player in the world and a four-time Champions League winner. He also led Argentina to the World Cup title in 2022.

At 36 years old, he’s hardly done.

Messi took the North American soccer scene by storm when he left Europe to join Miami last season. This year, he has 10 goals and 12 assists through just eight league games — on pace to smash the league records in both categories.

Montreal head coach Laurent Courtois, a former player in Europe, is hoping to have better luck against Messi from the touchline.

“I played him myself in his prime over in Spain and he embarrassed me,” Courtois said.

Having experienced humiliation first-hand, Courtois has a message for his players.

“You want to show now that you can compete against those guys,” Courtois said. “You have the poster in your bedroom, but you also want to be close to showing them that you belong here.

“If we can step on the field together, and my guys show him that we have a collective and not just a few individuals, I would be the happiest man."

That, however, is a tall task.

Miami, with a juggernaut squad comprised of former Barcelona stars, arrives in Montreal with the league’s best record (7-2-3) after Messi produced one goal and a jaw-dropping five assists in last Saturday’s 6-2 win over New York Red Bulls.

Fellow superstar Luis Suarez had a hat trick in the match to tie Messi for the league lead.

Meanwhile, injury-riddled Montreal (3-4-3) has dropped points in three straight MLS games and given up the most goals in the Eastern Conference.

The club is also in turmoil after parting ways with sporting officer Olivier Renard on Thursday less than two weeks after news surfaced that team MVP Mathieu Choiniere requested a trade amid a contract dispute.

Montreal is coming off a 1-1 draw with Forge FC of the lower-tier Canadian Premier League in a Canadian Championship match Tuesday after falling 4-1 to a struggling Nashville SC side in MLS play last week.

Courtois's men defeated Miami 3-2 on the road on March 10 amid a hot start to the season, but Messi didn’t take the pitch.

Messi is expected to feature in some capacity Saturday. As much as Piette might be star-struck, he’s still focused on coming up with three points against Miami once more.

“I got a job to do tomorrow. I want people to say that I did a good job in the game and against Messi,” Piette said. “I'm not saying I'm going to be perfect because I don't expect to be perfect against the greatest of all time. But yeah, I'll definitely do my best."

‘STRATEGIC DIVERGENCES’

CF Montreal president Gabriel Gervais reiterated Friday that the club and Renard mutually agreed to part ways, citing recent “strategic divergences” between the two parties.

"There was a lack of consensus in certain decisions,” Gervais said. "It's really in the recent times that there have been differences on that side."

Gervais denied comment on the case of Choiniere’s trade request, stating repeatedly that the club won’t speak publicly about contract negotiations.

Gervais also laid out the team’s line of authority amid widespread speculation that team owner Joey Saputo is meddling in soccer decisions.

"I'm in charge, I'm the president, ultimately I'm accountable for all decisions. Is that clear?” Gervais said. “And then when it comes to making strategic decisions, we have our board — our owners — that we meet frequently, that we present strategic decisions, so that's the chain of command. Ultimately, I'm accountable."

Renard joined Montreal as sporting director in 2019 and Montreal posted its finest MLS regular season in 2022 with a 20-9-5 record, good for second place in the Eastern Conference.

The 44-year-old is credited for his work in developing players at Montreal and selling them for substantial fees, such as Ismaël Koné, Alistair Johnston and Djordje Mihailovic. He also made significant moves this off-season by adding former MLS MVP Josef Martinez and striker Matias Coccaro.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2024.