CF Montreal’s story this offseason has been nothing if not a roller coaster, with both good and bad news breaking faster than anybody could handle. It seems as though every week there’s something new, which ultimately distracts from a new head coach in Hernan Losada, who is still trying to implement his vision and become more comfortable with his new team.
Previewing what Montreal's season could look like is not an easy task, as both a new manager and the lack of his ability for preseason friendlies means a lot of people are going into the season opener on Feb. 25 against Inter Miami blind.
Overview of last season
Last year could not have gone any better for Montreal, as they took a huge step forward with their supporting project that revolves around developing and showcasing young talent in order to help them move on to the next stage of their career. It seemed as though nearly every player on the team elevated their game and head coach Wilfried Nancy had them playing an attractive brand of soccer that fans at Saputo Stadium genuinely enjoyed watching.
Not only did they employ a philosophy that the team loved playing and sell out the stadium consistently, they found a great deal of success as well. Undoubtedly the biggest surprise in MLS last season, Montreal finished second in the Eastern Conference, just two points off Supporter’s Shield Winners Los Angeles FC. With the success of that season, they were able to make the first profitable sales of players in this new era. Djordje Mihailovic, Ismaël Koné, and Alistair Johnston were all brought to big European clubs with many more looking to move this year.
In response to those three big departures, sporting director Olivier Renard began his search for replacements. Aaron Herrera was the club’s biggest offseason acquisition, being brought in from Real Salt Lake for Johnston at the right back position. His similar profile, versatility, and crossing ability make him a very capable replacement, and could end up being one of the best pieces of business any MLS team has made in the entire offseason.
Besides Herrera’s arrival, Montreal has brought in more young players to add to their depth. George Campbell was added from Atlanta United as a strong, confident ball-playing centre back. Ilias Iliadis was acquired from Greek Super League club Panathinaikos’s reserve team to bolster the midfield as a defensive-leaning option off the bench. Most recently, Jules-Anthony Vilsaint was brought back to his hometown after spending time in the Belgian lower divisions as a member of Royal Antwerp’s youth team.
The signings show a willingness to go out and spend money in the market all while staying true to the fundamental goal that this project has put in place, which is to showcase and develop young talent. A number of young players have also come back from loan spells like Sean Rea, Jonathan Sirois and Chinonso Offor.
Biggest question mark
Since it was announced that Mihailovic would be leaving Montreal at the end of the 2022 season, all eyes were on who could potentially serve as a replacement for one of the best players at the club. Montreal actually made headlines when they opted not to bring in a new player to fill in the attacking midfield role, opting instead to bring Rea back from loan, and then trust the replacement with the players already in the squad. Matko Miljevic—Mihailovic’s understudy last season—looked primed to take the role and make it his own, but will have to wait between two and three months as he recovers from torn meniscus surgery in his knee.
It is a significant gamble, given how successful Mihailovic was and how well he connected with the strikers on the team, but there is an exciting pool of young attackers and midfielders at the club. Sunusi Ibrahim, Nathan Saliba, Mathieu Choinière, along with Rea and Vilsaint are all players that could see a noticeable increase in playtime should they find the right form and Miljevic’s injury persists.
Biggest X-factor: Romell Quioto
Last year’s team MVP, Romell Quioto was already going to have high expectations for his third season in Montreal. However, with Mihailovic’s departure, even more of the offensive load will be placed on his shoulders. When Mihailovic missed time last season due to injuries and was struggling to regain match fitness, Quioto played at an MVP level. He single-handedly ensured that the team's attacking production did not take a dip with the loss of the star attacking midfielder and showed just how high his ceiling is if he could maintain that consistency and stay healthy.
There’s no doubt about it, a healthy and motivated Quioto is Montreal’s best chance at replicating the kind of success they enjoyed in 2022.
Opinion on where Montreal will end up is extremely divided—and for good reason. They are in a similar situation as they were in the buildup to the 2021 season with a new coach and a slew of new players. They narrowly missed the playoffs that year on Decision Day, but while the situation is similar, the team could not be more different. This is a group that has bonded over the course of an exceptional season and will be playing in a similar formation and style that looks to dominate the ball and control the tempo.
They also have a relatively unchanged core that has built chemistry and familiarity over the course of the last year. They should expect to be a playoff team and while being within touching distance of the Supporter’s Shield is somewhat out of reach, the predictions of them ending up in the bottom three of the Eastern Conference are quite overdramatic.