MONTREAL – It would be surprising if CF Montreal once again experienced a year as eventful as the one it experienced in 2022.
On the field, the Bleu-blanc-noir had the best season in its history, beating several records along the way while chasing away some old demons from the past. Off the field, he reconciled with his supporters and seemed to regain a prominent place in the Montreal sporting world.
Through all its success, the club 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 to start the season, CF Montreal seemed on course for a first victory when they collapsed on the road.
Leading 3-1 late in the second half and attacking 11 against 10, the Bleu-blanc-noir allowed two goals to Atlanta United and had to settle for a disappointing draw.
CF Montreal fans have seen it too often since the team entered MLS in 2012. The heartbreaking losses, the wasted points late in the game or on the road, the inability to control those kinds of moments and have the killer instinct.
Everything seemed to point to another difficult season for the Montrealers, who had not made the playoffs since 2016. 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 chance to shine, by some young people developed internally and by a veteran who still had gas in the reservoir, the Bleu-blanc-noir 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, setting a team record in the process.
Mid-season, an embarrassing loss at home to Sporting Kansas City, the worst team in the Western Conference at the time, could have shaken the troops, but it was unclear about the esprit de corps that reigned in the within the Montreal formation.
Passing through Columbus to take on the Crew, who were undefeated in their last nine outings, CF Montreal trailed 1-0 in the second half when a storm cell forced play to be suspended for almost a hour and a half.
Back on the field, the Montrealers scored in the 88th minute and in stoppage time to save themselves with the three points. It is then the first victory in the history of the team after trailing beyond the 87th minute.
This was quite a 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 stretch in spectacular fashion.
Trailing 2-0 after only seven minutes of play at BMO Field in Toronto, the Montreal squad came from behind to triumph 4-3. Five days later, they confirmed their place in the qualifiers by erasing a 2-0 deficit against the Crew by hitting the target twice after the 88th minute of play.
During their magical season, which allowed them to finish second in the Eastern Conference, CF Montreal set two MLS records for the most consecutive road wins (seven) and the most highest total of road wins 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 seven of its last 10 games at Stade Saputo in 2022, including the playoffs.
Pumped up by the support of the crowd, the Bleu-blanc-noir showed Orlando City SC the way out in the first round of playoffs, but saw their fine run come to an end in the semi-finals of East, against New York City FC, reigning MLS champions.
Disappointment nevertheless gave way to pride in November and December, when six Bleu-blanc-noir players represented Canada at the Soccer World Cup: Alistair Johnston, Ismaël Koné, Kamal Miller, James Pantemis, Samuel Piette and Joel Waterman.
During its ascent to the Eastern classification, CF Montreal did not learn only good news.
About 36 hours before a duel at Saputo Stadium against New York City FC, the Montreal team learned of the death of its former player and assistant coach Jason Di Tullio. He was only 38 years old.
Di Tullio, who is nicknamed “La Grinta”, an Italian expression which means combativeness and intensity, had been fighting stage 4 glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer, since June 2021.
Just before starting their match against New York City FC, the Bleu-blanc-noir paid a touching tribute to Di Tullio before securing a courageous draw.
‘La Grinta’ has been in the talk for the rest of the season and the impact Di Tullio has left on the players will follow them for the rest of their careers.
It was also during the 2022 season that CF Montreal trusted a new president and CEO: Gabriel Gervais.
Gervais, a former Montreal Impact player from 2002 to 2008, quickly started working on files and one of those was to “reconnect” with some of the fans.
A chasm had developed between some fans and the team when the latter made a rebrand, dropping the Impact name and featuring a 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 for 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.
Nancy, 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 for his team. which echoed far beyond the Saputo stadium. His work has notably been recognized throughout MLS, when he was a finalist for the title of Head Coach of the Year.
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.