On the field, the Bleu-blanc-noir had the best season in its history. He has broken several records while chasing away some old demons from the past.
Off the field, he reconciled with his supporters, and he seemed to regain a place of choice in the Montreal sports universe.
Through all its success, the club has welcomed the return of one of its former players and bid farewell to one of its bravest members. Not to mention the departures during the off-season that could change the portrait of the team.
A magical season
After three straight losses at the start of the season, CF Montreal looked set to score their first victory before collapsing abroad.
Leading 3-1 late in the second period and with 11 players against 10, the Bleu-blanc-noir gave Atlanta United two goals and had to settle for a disappointing draw.
Fans have experienced it too often since the team entered MLS in 2012. The heartbreaking losses, the wasted points late in the game or away, the inability to control those kinds of moments and to have the instinct of the killer.
Everything seemed to point to another difficult season for the Montrealers who had not made the playoffs since the 2016 ones. This result in Atlanta, however, had the opposite effect.
Led by a head coach who laid out his plan and his vision, by a few players who got a real shot at showing off, by some internally developed youngsters and by a veteran who still had gas in the tank, CF not only became the league’s most dangerous team on the road, but also a real contender for the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup.
Few teams have gone on an eight-game unbeaten streak in a season, but Wilfried Nancy’s men have done it twice in 2022 to set a team record.
Mid-season, an embarrassing home loss to Sporting Kansas City, the worst team in the Western Conference at that time, could have shaken the troops, but it was bad to know the esprit de corps who reigned in the Montreal team.
Passing through Columbus to take on the Crew, undefeated in their last nine games, CF Montreal lost 1-0 in the second half when a storm cell forced the game to be interrupted for nearly an hour and a half.
Back on the field, the Montrealers scored in the 88th minute and in stoppage time to grab the three points and clinch the first victory in their history after being behind after the 87th minute.
This was a real testimony to this renewed confidence abroad. Fans got further proof, however, that they saw a different CF Montreal this season when their favorites showed character to start the home stretch in spectacular fashion.
Trailing 0-2 after just seven minutes of play at BMO Field in Toronto, the Montreal squad closed the gap to win 4-3. Five days later, she confirmed her place in the playoffs after erasing a 0-2 loss against the Crew by hitting the target twice after the 88th minute of play.
During its magical season, which allowed it to finish 2nd in the Eastern Conference, CF Montreal set two league records for the most consecutive road wins (seven ) and for the most wins on the road in a single season (11), as well as 12 team records.
Fans also fell in love with their team again. The Nancy troop has played to a full house in 7 of its last 10 games at Stade Saputo, including the playoffs.
Pumped up with the support of the crowd, the Bleu-blanc-noir showed the way out to Orlando City SC in the first round, but saw their fine run come to an end in the semi-finals of the East against defending MLS champions New York City FC.
Disappointment nevertheless gave way to pride in November and December, since six players represented Canada at the World Cup: Alistair Johnston, Ismaël Koné, Kamal Miller, James Pantemis, Samuel Piette and Joel Waterman.
During its rise to the Eastern classification, CF Montreal also went through a difficult period.
About 36 hours before a duel at Stade Saputo against New York City FC, he learned of the death of his former player and assistant coach Jason Di Tullio, aged only 38.
The grintaan Italian expression which means combativeness and intensity, Di Tullio had been fighting stage 4 glioblastoma since June 2021, the most aggressive form of brain cancer.
Just before starting their match against the NYCFC, the Bleu-blanc-noir paid a touching tribute to Di Tullio before drawing a courageous draw.
The grinta was part of the talk for the rest of the season and the impact Di Tullio left on the players will follow them for the rest of their careers.
It was also during the 2022 season that the CFM trusted a new president and CEO: Gabriel Gervais.
This former player of the Montreal Impact, from 2002 to 2008, quickly began to work on files and made it a priority to
reconnect with some supporters.
A chasm had developed between some fans and the team when the latter made a rebrand, dropping the Impact name and featuring a snowflake logo that received mostly negative feedback, in January 2021.
At the end of May, Gervais and CF Montreal presented a new logo and the reactions were largely positive. The logo refers more to the history of the team and its identity since entering the professional soccer leagues.
Finally, in mid-November, the launch of the new logo became official and we saw it take up more space on the team’s digital platforms, at Stade Saputo and at Center Nutrilait.
The CF Montreal project has been very clear for the past few years: target interesting young players, develop them, give them an opportunity to stand out in MLS and then sell them at a profit.
The team has somehow become a victim of its own success and a few of its important cogs have packed their bags for Europe.
After hatching in 2021, midfielder Djordje Mihailovic once again shone and caught the eye of Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, with whom he signed in August.
Johnston and Koné had great seasons with the Montreal team, but their performance at the World Cup also made waves in Europe. On December 3, just two days after Canada’s elimination, Johnston signed a five-year contract with Scottish club Celtic FC. Two days later, Koné agreed for four and a half years with the English club Watford FC.
Finally, the sky fell on the head of CF Montreal on December 6, when Wilfried Nancy, the conductor of these successes, left the team to become the head coach of the Crew.
The French technician, who had acted as an assistant since 2016 before taking the reins of the Bleu-blanc-noir in 2021, showed his qualities as a leader, pedagogue, tactician and he established an identity and a culture at his team that echoed well beyond the Saputo stadium. His work was notably recognized in the MLS and he was a finalist for the title of Head Coach of the Year.
Two weeks later, CF made Hernán Losada their new head coach.
The successes of the 2022 season are unlikely to be matched anytime soon and it remains to be seen if fans can witness some sequel in 2023.