CF Montreal's record-breaking campaign comes to an end as the off-season changes

CF Montreal’s record-breaking campaign comes to an end as the off-season changes

MONTREAL – At the start of the 2022 MLS season, very few could have predicted the kind of campaign that CF Montreal has had.

The local team, with no real superstars and little game experience, were not seen as contenders. However, a young team that head coach Wilfred Nancy called “humble but smart” defied expectations.

On the way to a 20-win season and a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference, Montreal broke numerous franchise and league records. One of the most intriguing was an 11-4-2 away record. The most distant winners in a league where results on the road are more difficult to achieve.

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On a hot afternoon in late October, CF Montreal failed to accomplish another feat: getting the better of New York City FC at the Stade Saputo. Montreal slipped to an 0-5-2 record at home against the defending champions and was eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs with a 3-1 loss.

The season-ending loss has everyone wondering what’s next for CF Montreal. The campaign’s success has caught the eye of European soccer, who demand Montreal’s up-and-coming young talent.

“The theme, when I took over the team, with (sporting director Olivier Renard) was to get the players, try to improve them and be clear about what we want. And for me it’s a success, ” said Nancy. “At the end of the day, I don’t know who will come back or not. But the team will be here and the goal is to start again.

Djordje Mihailovic has already confirmed his departure as he will join AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands in January. The creative American midfielder scored Montreal’s only goal late in the game for his final game at the Stade Saputo and left the pitch in tears.

With up to five players able to join Canada at the 2022 World Cup, other players could follow suit and move on from the club. The most interesting player is Ismail Kon. The 20-year-old joined John Herdman’s Canadian men’s national team as a semi-professional player two years ago and managed to make it to Europe.

Fellow midfielder Victor Wanyama has also announced that he wants to leave the club near the end of the season. With a midfield that could be pretty depleted, Montreal’s playoffs had the feel of a last dance.

“Of course there’s always a sense of the last dance during the game when you look at MLS, especially just the change in teams. It’s crazy,” said Alastair Johnston, who will also be part of Canada’s World Cup squad. “So no matter what happens, even if there was a stratospheric rise for a lot of guys, which there was, there still would have been a lot of change.

“So it’s always unfortunate that it’s going to be a different team next year, there’s going to be a different culture, it’s going to be a different group and you need to try and bottle that magic and bring it back next year.”

Another big question mark for CF Montreal is the fate of its coach. Like his players, Nancy went from an unknown outside the local soccer parks to an MLS Coach of the Year finalist. The Frenchman has an option on his current contract for next season but more uncertainty is looming over his future in Montreal.

“I want Wilfred and his entire staff to stay in Montreal,” said captain Samuel Payet. “What we’ve done with him since last year is remarkable, I think. You can tell the players enjoy playing for him, now at the club and especially on the pitch. There is a culture that is very clear.

“Wilfried and his staff have made it so that many players, including myself, continue to improve. So I want him to come back and I think the whole locker room shares that thought.

Nancy even drew praise from NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing.

“I can’t praise him enough,” he said. “I’ve been here twice now and they dominate and I think they do that to a lot of teams here.

“One thing that I think they should really appreciate a lot is just the process of improvement over the years. They didn’t stick to the same idea, keep working, keep improving, keep improving. They’re in the league. “They finished second and this team is going to be a winning team. If they keep doing the way they’re doing, they’re going to be a winning team. I’m sure of that.”

Despite this, the team tried to keep their heads high and look at the bigger picture. CF Montreal is ending its season having earned the respect of MLS and its home market. On the shores of Montreal Island is Repentigny, Que. Captained by a man from Piet, the group raised eyebrows.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’ll share something, where today with the national anthem, we all saw how it was last week, but today it was even louder and I got emotional. I cried a little, ” Pete said. “I was so proud to be able to live those moments. You know, I had my son there, my husband, my parents, my in-laws in the stands so I was able to share those moments with people that I like it, it’s something I don’t mind.

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