Djordje Mihailovic

Djordje Mihailovic is living out his final games in a CF Montréal uniform, as he’ll join Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar this winter in a move that reportedly commanded a transfer fee north of $6 million.

But the 23-year-old midfielder isn’t looking too far into his future in Holland, reinforcing his viewpoint that Montréal can lift MLS Cup on Nov. 5.

“I remember my first interview with you guys when I first came to the club and I said I want to win MLS Cup,” said Mihailovic, who arrived in December 2020 via trade from his boyhood Chicago Fire FC. “That’s not a fake thing, that’s a real thing and I believe we can go all the way to MLS Cup.

“We have the quality, we’ve shown the quality and we have the most wins in the East if I’m not mistaken. We’ve shown that we’re a top team in the league, not just in the conference. Winning and making it to the MLS Cup Final should be the goal of everybody and it’s a reachable goal.”

That confidence comes after Montréal barnstormed Inter Miami CF for a 3-1 road victory on Decision Day, ending their regular season second in the Eastern Conference table. Now, a Round One home match against No. 7 Orlando City SC arrives on Sunday (8 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada).

Montréal are entering single-elimination territory in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, and Mihailovic believes caution must frame the week of training ahead. They could host MLS Cup at Stade Saputo if conference leaders LAFC (West) and Philadelphia Union (East) falter after their respective byes, but they must maintain their end of the bargain too.

“Once you get to the playoffs, we have to understand what we did in the regular season doesn’t matter,” said Mihailovic, who tallied 9g/6a this season. “It’s a one-game situation and if you win the game, you can keep going. If you lose the game, the whole season’s done.”

Montréal’s 65 points represent a 19-point improvement from the 2021 campaign, when they missed the postseason during head coach Wilfried Nancy’s first season in charge. Canadian international midfielder Samuel Piette said they “kept building on that foundation” all while integrating players like defender Alistair Johnston, midfielder Ismael Kone and striker Kei Kamara, who’s now at 139 career MLS goals.

And Montréal have been on a tear since mid-July, holding a league-best 11W-1L-3D record over that period. They’ve thrived without a traditional league-wide star and just one Designated Player in Victor Wanyama, who’s announced he’s leaving after 2022. Mihailovic also missed six weeks to an injury at one point.

“We proved time and time again this season that the collective is more important than the player,” said Mihailovic, who generated Landon Donovan MLS MVP buzz before an ankle damaged his World Cup hopes with the United States. “There’s obviously a few guys that are leaders on the team, but consistently when a man gets injured, when a man goes down, another one steps up and that’s exactly what happened today. It was happening all season, that’s why we’re in this position.”

Without getting over-eager, Piette believes Montréal can be a force in the playoffs – the only Canadian team left standing after Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC both finished with losing records.

“We must remain level-headed about our playoff ambitions,” Piette said. “We've proven to the whole league, but especially to ourselves, that we're capable of going all the way. But we have to remain calm, not look too far into the future and take it one game at a time. We know very well that anything can happen in a playoff game. We'll focus on Orlando first.”