CF Montreal enters the new season hoping its new identity and manager can breathe new life into the side. The club formerly known as the Montreal Impact has struggled to put together a deep playoff run since making the Eastern Conference finals in 2016.
CF Montreal made its postseason return for the first time in four years under Thierry Henry – albeit under special circumstances – but slumped to a first-round exit against the New England Revolution.
The French tactician has since stepped down as CF Montreal manager, citing personal reasons behind his decision. With further uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season, Henry reportedly wanted to return to England to be closer to his family.
CF Montreal quickly made the decision to appoint Wilfried Nancy, after spending more than 10 years at the club.
“Not many people know of me. My name is Wilfried Nancy and I am proud of my name,” Nancy said. “I know it is not the same job as an assistant coach, but I am ready for that. I have been with a lot of coaches and learned a lot. I’m passionate about the game.”
Henry tried to put in place an aggressive system throughout his first year in charge with an emphasis on playing out from the back. This system will reportedly remain intact with Nancy at the helm, as the rookie manager looks to continue the work of his predecessor.
“Of course, results are important, but I would like to see a continuity of the club’s philosophy and vision,” said Olivier Renard, CF Montreal’s Sporting Director. “I am aware it will not be easy with a lot of new, young players joining, but he knows the club. It is also part of the club’s philosophy to consider and promote our own.”
While the primary aim will be to integrate a plethora of young talent coming in, Nancy’s first order of business is reinforcing the backline. CF Montreal was all too guilty of switching off last season and committing defensive errors. The Canadian side conceded 43 goals last year under Henry – the fourth-worst record in the entire league.
Renard has been proactive on this front this offseason, securing the likes of Kamal Miller, Zorhan Bassong, and Kiki Struna, while Laurent Ciman’s appointment as assistant coach offers CF Montreal’s young defensive core a leader. The club shifted between a back three and back four last year and all signs are pointing to much of the same under Nancy.
CF Montreal will base its operations in Fort Lauderdale, before kicking off its season against Toronto FC on April 17
Here is a closer look at 2021 CF Montreal:
2021 CF Montreal Season Preview
2020 finish: 8-2-13 (9th in Eastern Conference, eliminated in the first round of the playoffs)
Key Additions: Djordje Mihailovic, Kamal Miller, Kiki Struna, Sunusi Ibrahim, Ahmed Hamdy, Bjorn Johnsen, Joaquin Torres,
Key Departures: Maximiliano Urruti, Jorge Corrales Jukka Raitala.
Newcomer to Watch: Djordje Mihailovic
Mihailovic’s arrival headlines a busy window of offseason acquisitions for CF Montreal. The Canadian side secured the young midfielder’s services for $800,000 in GAM, which could potentially rise to $1 million. Mihailovic offers the side some much-needed creativity in the final third and is coming off his most productive season in Major League Soccer.
The 22-year-old registered two goals and seven assists in 18 appearances for the Chicago Fire, highlighting his ability to make a difference up front. CF Montreal relied heavily on Romell Quioto last season to prove the firepower and could use quality between the lines.
Mihailovic thrived playing off a physical striker in Robert Beric with the Fire and will be hoping to build an immediate partnership with Quioto. The young midfielder has all the potential to take the next step in his career and deliver on his incredible promise.
Pressure is on: Victory Wanyama
The Kenyan international joined at the beginning of last season as a Designated Player and was expected to add stability in the middle of the park. Wanyama struggled to get going initially but eventually adapted to Thierry Henry’s dynamic system.
CF Montreal posted the worst defensive record last season in the Eastern Conference, conceding 43 goals in 23 games. As the side’s defensive midfielder, Wanymam is tasked with shielding the backline and snuffing out any dangerous counters.
The CF Montreal faithful simply did not see enough of this last season and will need Wanyama to channel the form that initially convinced the Canadian side to hand him the Designated Player tag. With a number of budding young midfield talents joining, the pressure is on Wanyama to deliver.
Renard was one of Major League Soccer’s busiest sporting directors this offseason, bringing in no fewer than 10 new faces to the club. Beyond shoring up CF Montreal’s backline, the Belgian sporting director did his best to arm Nancy with a number of offensive options.
Quioto shouldered much of the offensive responsibility last year, recording nine goals and seven assists in 21 appearances. Mihailovic is expected to play an integral role in this respect and establish himself as the side’s creative outlet. The young American is ready to take the next step in his career and assume a bigger role with his new club.
“I want to take on leadership. In Chicago, I was looked at like a little brother, as a young homegrown player,” Mihailovic said. “In Montreal, I feel that commitment to me.”
Mihailovic was one of many offensive acquisitions this offseason, with Renard also signing Bjorn Johnsen, Sunusi Ibrahim, and Joaquin Torres. The former offers CF Montreal an alternative to Quioto upfront and joins with a wealth of experience.
Johnsen is coming off a successful final season with Ulsan Hyundai, leading the South Korean side to the 2020 AFC Champions League. The New York native will offer CF Montreal the presence they have been lacking inside the penalty area.
Nancy faces a tough challenge ahead of his debut season. The 44-year-old will not only have to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions but must also help CF Montreal’s new signings adapt quickly to their new surroundings. A challenge Nancy looks forward to.
“What is interesting is that for many positions, we have two or three options,” Nancy said. “Out wide, we have dribblers like Joaquin Torres or a player like Erik Hurtado, who prefers offering depth. It is the same situation in the midfield.”
Much of CF Montreal’s success in the upcoming season will come down to their ability to keep the ball out of the net – an issue that regularly hurt the side last year. Renard will also be hoping one of his gambles this offseason pays off.
CF Montreal has invested heavily in young talents over the past year, notably Mason Toye, Kamal Miller, and Djordje Mihailovic. If Nancy can help these players become MLS regulars, CF Montreal enters the new season a much-improved side.
Toye joined towards the tail end of last season and failed to make an impact, registering just one assist in seven appearances. With a full preseason under his belt, however, the 22-year-old will be raring to go. Nancy’s background with the club’s youth setup will undoubtedly help the side’s younger players develop.
CF Montreal will be hoping to usher in its new identity with a successful season. The club’s rebrand offers Nancy’s men a clean slate and a unique opportunity to put their recent woes behind them. Nancy may have his hands full heading into the new season, but the rookie manager has all the potential to spring a surprise or two and make a name for himself.
CF Montreal Roster
Goalkeepers – Clement Diop, James Pantemis, Jonathan Sirois
Defenders – Zorhan Bassong, Luis Binks, Zachary Brault-Guillard, Rudy Camacho, Keesean Ferdinand, Mustafa Kizza, Kamal Miller, Kiki Struna, Joel Waterman, Karifa Yao
Midfielders – Jean-Aniel Assi, Clement Bayiha, Mathieu Choiniere, Tomas Giraldo, Ahmed Hamdi, Lassi Lappalainen, Emanuel Maciel, Djordje Mihailovic, Samuel Piette, Sean Rea, Nathan Sailba, Amar Sejdic, Ballou Tabla, Joaquin Torres, Victor Wanyama, Ride Zouhir
Forwards – Erik Hurtado, Sunusi Ibrahim, Bjorn Johnsen, Romell Quioto, Mason Toye