Read all of our 2023 offseason guides for each MLS team as they are eliminated from the postseason here.
CF Montreal learned its season was over while huddled around an iPad in the visiting team’s technical area at Columbus’ Lower.com Field. Despite a 2-1 loss at the hands of former head coach Wilfried Nancy, the Canadian side was still on the brink of playoff qualification as enough results elsewhere were going their way. Then the New York Red Bulls got a penalty deep into stoppage time and John Tolkin converted, eliminating Montreal as they watched from Columbus.
Montreal moved away from Nancy to new head coach Hernan Losada this winter. They also said goodbyes to Djordje Mihailovic (transfer to AZ Alkmaar), Ismael Kone (Watford) and Alistair Johnston (Celtic).
The short version: This indeed was a transition season, and another stage in the rebuild starts now.
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State of the roster
Head coach: Hernan Losada (since 2023)
Chief Soccer Officer: Olivier Renard (since 2019)
Academy products and intra-league trades replenished talent lost in the transfers of Mihailovic, Johnston and Kone. The club went to the trade market to add Mahala Opoku, Aaron Herrera, Bryce Duke and George Campbell over the year – and the aforementioned sales were a big reason why. The allocation money converted from those sales allowed the club to spend $1.75m GAM to acquire Opoku from LAFC and sign him to a new contract. He fits Hernan Losada’s system perfectly. Herrera is one of the best right backs in MLS and Duke, though signed for a hefty fee from Inter Miami, is a talented young player (though he fell out of the starting lineup by the end of the season).
It’s been a good year for academy graduates too. Midfielder Nathan Saliba, 19, had a breakout season. Goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois, 22, is a long-term answer at that position. Midfielder Mathieu Choiniere, now 24, had a career year as well. He was named an MLS All-Star and was probably the club’s most consistent player. Joel Waterman would be the other argument for that moniker. Midfielder Samuel Piette battled injury but is an in-prime Canadian international and will be a written-in-pen starter next year again.
A shorter way to say all this: Montreal has a lot of solid MLS players.
… but they don’t have many (any?) high-end difference-makers.
Midfielder Victor Wanyama, the club’s lone designated player (DP), was excellent under Nancy in 2022 but doesn’t fit Losada’s system. He started just 20 times this year.
Not only is Wanyama the club’s only DP, he’s the only DP brought in from abroad that wasn’t from sister club Bologna since 2016. Montréal didn’t pay a transfer fee to sign him. The club has rarely paid real cash to sign senior players in recent years, and it’s extremely difficult to compete in today’s MLS that way. Even other “low budget” teams like the Colorado Rapids are still looking abroad for talent and paying actual money for those players.
I still have no clue why the club traded away defender Kamal Miller to Miami, where he’s become a foundational piece, instead of signing him to a new contract.
In perhaps the wackiest story in MLS this year, U-22 initiative signing Matko Miljevic was frustrated at his playing time in Montreal so signed up for an amateur league under a fake name. He got found out because he allegedly punched an opposing player. His contract was terminated.
Miljevic played a total of 802 minutes over two seasons. He was Montreal’s seventh-highest paid player.
What could change
They could sign two DPs if they want, or three if Wanyama leaves (sources say he was very available for trade this year).
Will they? Probably not, thanks to the aforementioned lack of cash spending.
Forward Romell Quioto is out of contract. If he departs as expected, another starting-caliber forward is a critical addition.
Head coach shouldn’t change, but it can’t be ruled out given this club’s seemingly constant turnover.
Losada just wrapped up his first season. It was reasonably successful given the talent drain from last year’s team, drastic system change and the fact that Duke and Opoku weren’t acquired until during the season. It was a solid first year for Losada, but he seems to suggest he’s not sure if he’s coming back. Asked about his future following the club’s loss to Columbus, Losada indicated that decision is up to CSO Olivier Renard. That doesn’t seem to reveal a ton of confidence (or we’re reading too much into a weird quote immediately after the season ended).
Thierry Henry lasted a season as manager then resigned (though the COVID-19 pandemic played a part). Nancy nearly quit midseason in 2022 after a fight with owner Joey Saputo. Now Losada isn’t sure where he stands. That’s not a great track record.
The Impact clearly run a very good academy, are capable of smart intra-league scouting, and have a decent stadium situation they control with Stade Saputo. Broader financial questions remain, though, considering the club’s low level of discretionary spending.
High-end attacking talent
One big swing for an attacking DP could elevate this group up the Eastern Conference standings. Think Chicho Arango joining Real Salt Lake, Cucho Hernandez to the Columbus Crew or even Cristian Espinoza to the San Jose Earthquakes. It doesn’t need to be wildly expensive; Espinoza was a $2 million transfer fee and has been San Jose’s difference-maker for years.
Find the next intra-league target?
It’s fair to assume Montreal will be aggressive on the trade market once again this offseason. There will be strong free agent options as well. Would striker Diego Rubio, who is leaving the Colorado Rapids in free agency, make sense? What about Gustavo Bou if he leaves New England but stays in MLS?
All in all, this was a decent season. Chopping and changing to a new coach, vision and preferences would reset the clock once again for this club, and that’s not what’s needed right now. Just keep building.
(Top photos: Getty Images)