After finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference standings with 46 points in 2021, there weren’t many who would have predicted CF Montréal’s meteoric ascent just one year later.
The Canadian side has officially clinched a spot in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, with four matches to spare, pulling off a gutsy two-goal comeback to earn a 2-2 draw against 10-man Columbus Crew Friday evening at Stade Saputo.
The result returns Montréal to the postseason for the first time since 2020, when they fell in the Play-in Round to the New England Revolution.
“I like to say sometimes that you have to live the moment, you have to live the story. The fans here, they lived it. They lived it,” head coach Wilfried Nancy said after the match. “Again, 96 minutes, my guys, they didn’t stop. They kept going, and I don’t know – we had the feeling it was possible to do it. So I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but there is a positive energy in this group, a chemistry in this group.”
Another dramatic comeback
The late comeback was eerily similar to when these two teams first met on Aug. 3 – the last time Columbus lost. On that day, Montréal also scored twice near the end of the game, including Joel Waterman’s game-winner in stoppage time to earn the 2-1 victory.
They had to channel that resilience again on Friday, as Montréal fell behind following a pair of second-half Crew goals – two minutes apart – that sucked the life out of the home crowd.
However, the match took a turn in the 76th minute when Crew winger Luis Díaz was shown a red card for a play that was deemed to be violent conduct by referee Lukasz Szpala following Video Review.
Proving doubters wrong
After entering the 2022 campaign somewhat under the radar, CF Montréal have challenged near the top of the Eastern Conference table for the majority of the season, displaying remarkable consistency under Nancy in his second year at the helm.
With four games still to play, Montréal have already set a new franchise record in points (53) and are second in the East – six points clear of third-place New York Red Bulls.
Montréal have emerged as a force, with the look of legitimate MLS Cup contenders well on their way to securing a home playoff date at Stade Saputo.
For all their success, it’s even more impressive considering the unconventional approach CF Montréal vice president and chief sporting officer Olivier Renard has taken to building what has been one of the most successful teams in MLS this year.
Heading into the season, the team had formed its roster with no clear-cut superstar and only one Designated Player (Wanyama).
Instead, Montréal have invested heavily in scouting domestic talent and building a deep roster composed of under-appreciated stars like Canadian internationals Alistair Johnston and Kamal Miller, as well as standout US international Djordje Mihailovic. Fellow Concacaf striker Romell Quioto (Honduras) is also enjoying a career year (15g/5a), leading Montréal’s attack up front alongside 38-year-old veteran Kei Kamara, who's now third all-time in MLS goals scored.
For Nancy, with so many like-minded players, a shared goal has brought the group even closer together.
“My players don’t play with their teammates, they play for their teammates,” Nancy said. “For me, this is a good point, and because this is the way they are, they want to fight for their teammates. This is what they did … so this is something that I’m really, really proud of.”