Voices: Kevin Egan

360 View: CF Montréal's mystique to catch Inter Miami by surprise?

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Hello there, beautiful people! Welcome back to 360 View with me, Kevin Egan.

Last week’s #MLS360 show was so much fun, as we bounced around 10 different matches on a wild Saturday night. And one team that continues to catch my eye for all the right reasons is CF Montréal. Now that Laurent Courtois’ men are visiting Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami CF on Sunday night primetime, I have a feeling that everyone is set to take note (5 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

To go back a step or 10, before I was the host of MLS 360, I was the play-by-play commentator for Atlanta United, and long before that, I was a commentator for Chicago Fire FC. In fact, my first-ever Fire broadcast happened to be against Montréal, in their inaugural MLS match. Fun fact: For many reasons, we broadcasted that match from the NASCAR Studios in Charlotte, so yes, we’ve come a long way since 2012!

Montréal, in my opinion, have always had some of the best fans in MLS, fans who have often been wowed by stars like Didier Drogba, Alessandro Nesta, Marco Di Vaio, Patrice Bernier, and of course, Nacho Piatti. There have been many magical moments, but I’ve never really known what Montréal’s identity was. Until now.

Highs and lows

The 2022 season was one for the club to savor. Led by current MLS champion coach Wilfried Nancy, Montréal transformed how they played, and also how they acted. There was an obvious style, one that was greatly appreciated by their fanbase. A clear objective to promote youth and local talent. And Montréal became a desirable destination for European scouts, with Ismaël Koné, Djordje Mihailovic and Alistair Johnston all earning big-money moves across the Atlantic. That year, Montréal finished second in the Eastern Conference, setting club records for wins (20), points (65) and goals scored (63). Nancy’s men picked up an MLS-record 35 points away from home, too.

Naturally, Nancy’s stock soared and he left to lead the Columbus Crew. Eventually, former D.C. United boss Hernán Losada arrived in Quebec, and Montréal lost their way again. Losada’s team lost six of their first seven games and failed to score in all six losses. Their first road point came on April 29. They drifted away from what won people over the previous year.

As a disappointing 2023 season came to a close, finishing 10th in the East (no playoffs), CF Montréal CSO Olivier Renard knew exactly what he wanted, and who the right person was to steer the project. Step in Laurent Courtois. Renard got his “number one person,” and the man to bring Montréal back to what they did so well in 2022. He’s a proven winner with a track record of promoting and developing youth. Courtois and Renard’s Montréal seemed like a perfect match.

Two games in, and Montréal may be the surprise to many this season. With four points won from road games in Orlando (0-0) and Dallas (2-1), Courtois’ biggest test awaits: Messi and Inter Miami at Chase Stadium. This is a Miami side that completely dismantled and annihilated Orlando last week, scoring five, getting braces from Messi and Luis Suárez. So why might Montréal surprise Miami?

All in

First and foremost, they’re all in. Everything I’m hearing from Montréal’s camp is the players are loving Courtois’ style. The vibes are incredible and the city is behind this team. In terms of playing style, Sacha Kljestan made a point on MLS 360 last week, that “I guarantee these players are enjoying this.” Courtois plays in a 3-4-2-1 system, and his players are tasked with being courageous. Making mistakes is something Courtois embraces, as long as he sees his intended practice at play. Expression and personality are key components, something that was extremely evident as Montréal took the game to Orlando in the early exchanges on MLS is Back weekend.

Not only did Laurent Courtois win MLS NEXT Pro with Columbus Crew 2, but his fingerprints were all over the Crew side that won MLS Cup last December. Players like Jacen Russell-Rowe, Mo Farsi and goalkeeper Patrick Schulte all rose to prominence under Courtois, and I have no doubt the young talent at his disposal in Montréal is going to thrive. Mathieu Choinière, Nathan Saliba, Jonathan Sirois and Jules-Anthony Vilsaint are all young Quebec natives with huge potential. Add to that the calculated offseason signings of Josef Martínez, Matias Coccaro, Dominic Iankov and Ruan – all to suit the new system of play. The plan is evident, on and off the pitch.

Around the city itself, the buzz is palpable. For the first time in CF Montreal history, all season tickets have been sold. Much of the hype surrounds the arrival of Messi, Suárez and Co. on May 11 to Stade Saputo, but well before then, this young and adventurous Montréal side have a chance to truly announce themselves here in 2024. Orlando didn’t show up last week against Miami, and Oscar Pareja’s team left with regrets. I expect this Montréal team will play their way, no matter what names they’re up against.

Montreal’s early-season tale has been fascinating. It’s good for MLS, and it’s great for the football-loving city that is Montréal. A new, exciting coach. Targeted signings. An attractive style of play. And a rabid fanbase that’s all in.

Enjoy the mystique while it lasts, because I have a feeling CF Montréal could become very familiar with fans near and far quite soon.