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Yukon Territories

CF Montreal coach Nancy is looking ahead to improvement next season

MONTREAL — For most teams, ending the season with the third-best record in the league, playing in the Eastern Conference semifinals and breaking both club and Major League Soccer records in the process would be cause for celebration.

MONTREAL — For most teams, ending the season with the third-best record in the league, playing in the Eastern Conference semifinals and breaking both club and Major League Soccer records in the process would be cause for celebration.

For CF Montreal this means there is still work to be done and head coach Wilfried Nancy is already preparing for next season.

“There is always the next challenge. What we do with the players and the staff is something that we have planned and build a bond with the group that will last,” Nancy said. “We’ve been working on that a lot day in and day out and we’re really proud to see the difference between this year and last year.”

Nancy underwent a philosophical and tactical transformation after taking charge of the team in March last year when Thierry Henry stepped down. After missing the 2021 playoffs, the team’s offense exploded this season. Montreal ranked fifth in goals scored and sixth in possession.

“Playing in that system really challenges you to do something different. I think we all took some steps in our offensive game this year,” said Alistair Johnston, who came from Nashville SC in the offseason and won the team’s accolade won Defenseman of the Year. “Wilfried said to me, ‘We want you to follow,’ and that was a really good stepping stone for me.”

Johnston not only had an excellent year offensively, but also the entire defensive core. Seventeen of Montreal’s 63 goals came from their defensive line, giving them a goal depth they had eluded in previous years.

With all these successes, a lot of attention has been drawn from other sides – particularly from overseas – who have identified many of the club’s younger players as targets for the future. Ismaël Koné almost joined English second division side Sheffield United earlier in the season and although the move fell through before the transfer deadline, interest remains.

It’s also about midfielder Djordje Mihailovic, who will move to his new club AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie in the coming weeks.

“The people and this city, you can tell how passionate they are. My first start in MLS (with Chicago Fire) when I was 17 or 18 was at Stade Saputo and I remember the fans have that passion for their club,” said an emotional Mihailovic. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to play for fans like that and I’ve felt that passion especially in the last two months.”

The America international is set to travel to AZ Alkmaar in the coming weeks and begin training to join the club on January 7 when the European winter transfer window opens.

Mihailovic may not be the only member of the club to leave the club as rumors have swirled around Nancy too. In fact, there could be a very different CF Montreal stepping onto the field next February to open the 2023 season.

“It would be nice to try again and try again with the same team and the same staff, but sometimes teams succeed and you have to take advantage of that,” said captain Samuel Piette. “I’m a bit sad because maybe people are leaving and changing a winning formula is obviously not ideal. There will be a lot of unknowns, but that was the case last year and we’ll still have a core of players who stay.”

Houston Dynamo and Columbus Crew are reportedly interested in Nancy’s services amid speculation his contract may not be renewed at the end of the season.

Sporting director Olivier Renard cleared up these rumours, as the team’s post-season appearance automatically triggered an option clause in the coaching contract.

“I hope it’s wrong because there will be problems,” Renard said of the rumours. “No club can contact our manager and in particular other MLS clubs.”

With Montreal not participating in the CONCACAF Champions League, the team faces a five-month off-season. Nancy acknowledged that while waiting for news, it’s natural for speculation to run wild. His philosophy is to focus on one day at a time.

“For me, a win means doing better than yesterday. Winning or losing a game, I don’t care and I don’t think about it,” said Nancy. “When I became a coach I knew I was going to have good moments and I knew I was going to have bad moments and navigating through those every day is how you win the day.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 25, 2022.

Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press

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