Speaking after their 2-1 win Saturday afternoon over Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Johnston stumped for midfielder Djordje Mihailovic to merit strong consideration. The 23-year-old had one goal and one assist, giving him seven goal contributions through their first seven league games.
“I think if he keeps performing at this level, which I have no doubt he will, he should be a frontrunner for MVP and we need to keep pushing that narrative as a collective group,” Johnston said. “From the media up north, [it’s] really pushing that so that it goes mainstream because it is such a narrative-driven award where stats definitely play a part. But at the same time, if you don't have that storyline going with you it's really difficult. So we need to push that right from the get-go because he deserves it. He deserves to be at least in the front-running in that top-five discussion, for sure.”
This is Mihailovic’s second season with Montréal after the Chicago Fire FC homegrown talent was acquired in a December 2020 trade for up to $1 million in General Allocation Money. He posted 4g/16a a season ago, nearly sparking an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs run, and has upped his production considerably since turning pro in 2017.
Earning MVP honors would require Mihailovic to remain in the league all year, surely, something that Montréal midfielder Victor Wanyama noted may not be a guarantee. The 23-year-old has generated transfer interest in the past, and plenty of runway awaits him.
“To me, Djordje is a great player,” said the former Premier League star and Kenya national team captain. “We understand his movement, he's a top talent. He's on fire at the moment, so I see him, if he continues like this, in bigger leagues to be honest. He won't be here with us for long. So he's playing well. He should continue being humble and giving us the performances he's giving us at this stage.”
Mihailovic’s form is also sparking shouts for a US men’s national team call-up as head coach Gregg Berhalter deliberates over his Qatar 2022 World Cup squad. The Yanks’ No. 8 position has a few top-end options like Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Giovanni Reyna and Luca de la Torre, though injuries have proven troublesome and depth is needed.
Mihailovic has six USMNT caps and last featured in a December 2020 friendly vs. El Salvador. He was also a bright spot as the program's Under-23s missed out on qualifying for last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
“I'm not here to compare with the other players, but I know that he has the quality to do something really good with the national team,” CFM head coach Wilfried Nancy said. “After that, I'm not in discussions with the national coach. Djordje has to control what he can control, so be good on the pitch, be good during the training and after that we will see.”
Johnston offered his own perspective, calling Mihailovic a “game-changer” who the Canadian international is glad he didn’t face during the Octagonal qualification stage.
“I'll put it like this: As a Canadian, I wouldn't like to go up against him on a consistent basis,” Johnston said. “Maybe it's best that they're actually keeping him out. So thank you, Gregg, for leaving him at home. But he deserves it.”
That may change, with the USMNT next competing in a June international window that includes Nations League games and friendlies.
As for the MVP part, Montréal had Marco Di Vaio as a finalist in 2013. The Italian forward earned Best XI honors that year, with defender Laurent Ciman (2015) and midfielder Ignacio Piatti (2016, ‘18) other such honorees since the club joined MLS in 2012.