Formally, CF Montréal’s head coach opening lasted just 15 days.
Wilfried Nancy departed for the Columbus Crew on Dec. 6, then Hernán Losada was hired on Dec. 21. With the 2023 MLS season starting on Feb. 25, time was of the essence.
The decision arrives with a few question marks, though, considering the narrative and reports that surrounded Losada’s exit from D.C. United early into the 2022 MLS campaign. Stories of locker-room tensions, intense training ground sessions and player weigh-ins seemed to sour his time with the Black-and-Red. When the Argentine manager was abruptly dismissed last April, he had lasted just 41 total games in charge across 15 months.
Asked about that exit and getting a second chance in MLS, Losada said he’s a “young coach who is still learning a lot as a coach and as a person.” He said there are two sides to everything, too.
“There are things to correct, there are things to get better,” the 40-year-old said. “I'm ready to be a better person, to be a better coach. But of course you also need to understand that in soccer, football or whatever you want to call it, it's a group of 30 players. I'm in charge of a lot of people and all of them to keep them happy, to keep them motivated – that's the challenge. And it's not always easy.
“Like you're going to read a few negative comments, I also received yesterday 20, 25 messages from ex-players of D.C. United, from people who work there, being extremely happy with this new opportunity,” Losada continued. “So while sometimes we got a lot of attention to a few negative comments, we forgot how many positive comments I also receive in my period with D.C. United. Of course, it's up to me to be a better coach and I want to be that. I'm ready for that. That's why I'm also so thankful to receive this opportunity now with Montréal and I'm ready to go.”
Olivier Renard, Montréal’s vice president and chief sporting officer, took a forward-looking approach when addressing the same topic. They have mutual roots in Belgium – Renard is from the European nation, while Losada most notably played for and coached Beerschot before coming to MLS.
“I don't want to speak about what we heard in the past about Hernan,” Renard said. “But I want also to explain that I received also many messages yesterday, from Belgium also, that it was a good choice from the club, from me. I'm sure from that. But like Hernan explained, he's a young coach and he needs to also have the support around him.”
Renard also made clear Montréal “want to see a coach adapt to a club and not a club adapt to a coach.” While Losada was disruptive in the US capital, that doesn’t seem likely to occur north of the border.
Further, Losada’s view of the game – his D.C. teams became known for their high-tempo, high-pressing style – seems in lockstep with how Montréal have sought to play since Renard arrived in 2019 after helping lead Belgian powerhouses like Royal Antwerp and Standard Liege. It surfaced during the year-long Thierry Henry era (2020) and with Nancy (2021-22) at the helm, applying a philosophy of play that's distinctly Montréal above all else.
“My style of play, I used to be a No. 10, offensive midfield player, always thinking how to win the game and not thinking about how we don't lose the game,” Losada said, conducting the majority of his press conference in the Québécois city’s native French language. “So based on that, I also build my game model and my philosophy and thinking of what we can do to win the game, how we can create the most scoring chances, how can we at the same time be offensive but also have a defensive stability.
“I believe football is a spectacle,” he added. “You have to sell a product, you have to give something to the fans so they want to come back. Football is a beautiful sport, it's a team sport.”
The challenge before Losada is significant, considering all Montréal achieved under Nancy, who ascended from their academy ranks to being the 2022 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year runner-up.
Montréal are coming off their best-ever MLS season, finishing two points (65) off LAFC’s Supporters’ Shield-winning pace. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, narrowly behind the Philadelphia Union, and scored the fifth-most goals (63) in the league.
The task is further complicated by who Montréal have lost in the transfer market, a list that currently stands at four starters: midfielder Victor Wanyama (free; lone Designated Player), midfielder Djordje Mihailovic (transfer to AZ Alkmaar), midfielder Ismaël Koné (transfer to Watford FC) and defender Alistair Johnston (transfer to Celtic FC). Center backs Kamal Miller and Joel Waterman, two of CFMTL’s six players who represented Canada at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, are also reportedly generating Europe-centric interest.
Some additions have rolled through, acquiring defenders Aaron Herrera (from Real Salt Lake) and George Campbell (from Atlanta United) via intra-league trades. More signings are expected, with Renard also singling out homegrown midfielders Rida Zouhir and Nathan Saliba as players who could progress into bigger first-team roles. Montréal have three open DP spots to work with as well.
“We will make transfers and also with the coach, he knows the idea that we have and the more important thing, like I told you many months or weeks or days ago, that we will be competitive,” Renard said. “We will stay competitive. That was not one year. We know that also next season will be not so easy, that the expectation for many people, and also for the player the year after, is the more difficult year that we need to repeat.”
Losada assured Montréal won’t slide after 2022's successes. In many ways, it’s how his second MLS coaching gig will be evaluated.
“What this team did last season was amazing,” Losada said. “We will try to do the same and even better. Of course, with the support of Olivier, the president and everyone involved in the game, I'm full of confidence that we will have a competitive team this season and next season and every single season, because I'm surrounded by people with a lot football knowledge.
“It's a challenge to repeat what you all did this year, and I'm sure we're going to achieve it.”