Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

What the 2022 MLS season meant for CF Montréal


Simply put: The best and most successful season of the team’s MLS existence.

A GIF is worth a thousand words:

It was reasonable to have decently high expectations for Montréal entering the season. They had, after all, come within a whisker of making the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs last year despite living a nomadic existence through the first half of the year thanks to COVID-19, and they had a core of good, young players on the upswing, and they were a team that played with both purpose and precision.

I don’t think anyone outside of the CFM locker room would’ve predicted 65 points, though. They damn near won the Supporters’ Shield!

And the way they did it was just gorgeous. Wilfried Nancy had them playing some of the prettiest, ball-dominant soccer in the league – always putting 10 field players out there who were good on the ball, and damn near always building from the back. Along the way, he helped develop Djordje Mihailovic into a multi-million dollar transfer out (AZ Alkmaar) and paved the way for Ismael Kone to soon do the same.

Yes, it ended in somewhat ugly fashion, But it was so, so good for so long that I refuse to let it detract from my overall enjoyment of this side.

Formation and Tactics

Nancy toggled between a 3-4-2-1 and a 3-5-2, though often the distinction was meaningless given how smoothly Romell Quioto floated between playing as a second forward and as a second attacking midfielder.

The distinction in central midfield was a little more solid, though, as what began with Victor Wanyama as a single pivot became much more of a double pivot by midseason, though Wanyama was still the deeper of the two deep-lying midfielders.

Neither wingback was particularly high-risk, to the point I’ve seen some folks feel like you could call the formation a 5-3-2 instead of a 3-5-2 (or 3-4-2-1), and while I get that, I don’t think that’s particularly fair. Because even though the wingbacks weren’t high-risk, they still shouldered a lot of responsibility in the build-up and, obviously, stretching the field from touchline to touchline.

All of this made for a team that was sixth in possession, third in touches and third in passing accuracy. They also crossed the ball a lot and were the best in the league at it, completing 28.3%, to go along with their league-best field tilt* of 58.9%.

(*) Field tilt represents the share of final third passes they hit. Nashville, for example, had the lowest field tilt in the league at 41.3%.

Know what that indicates? That they were good and smart crossing the ball from good spots (the golden zones at the sides of the box) after long, precise sequences of play.


Once they got past that CCL-inflicted three-game skid to open the season, there ended up being lots of highlights to choose from. The eight-game unbeaten run from mid-March to mid-May has an argument to make, as does another eight-game streak from mid-July to late August.

That one turned out to be part of a longer, 15-game blitz to the end of the season in which they went 11W-1L-3D and pushed the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference to the final weekend of the year.

Throughout all of that, there were individual performances to highlight. Mihailovic came out of the gates scorching and got deserved early MVP buzz. When he got hurt, Quioto stepped up and played four straight months of Best XI-caliber soccer. 38-year-old Kei Kamara, signed just before the season started, earned more and more minutes throughout the year and is maybe about to win Comeback Player of the Year, which would not be undeserved.

But when you win a playoff game with a goal as pretty as this one, this is the season’s highlight:

Pretty. Damn. Soccer.


And yet there will be no return trip to the CCL because Montréal got absolutely annihilated by their biggest rivals, Toronto FC, in the semifinals of the Canadian Championship. Granted, Nancy rotated the squad a bit, and granted, an Ayo Akinola goal just before halftime meant CFM had to chase the game in the second half, which all added up to the 4-0 final.

But this wasn’t a performance like their disappointing elimination from the playoffs at the hands of NYCFC, where a couple early breaks went against them and that’s what defined the contest. Nor was it reminiscent of their valiant two-legged elimination by Cruz Azul in the CCL quarterfinals.

This was just Montréal getting pummeled by their biggest rivals in a knockout game. They looked nothing like the team we saw for the entire rest of 2022.


Kone! The kid was so far under the radar he wasn’t even a part of Montréal’s academy in the traditional sense – they didn’t sign him until August 2021.

What a rise it’s been. The 20-year-old started 18 games in the regular season, contributing 2g/5a, and then started two more in the playoffs and slotting home that goal above.

And that goal is a perfect example of what he brings to the game. His ability to find the right time and right lane to make those third-man, box-arriving off-ball runs is just sublime. He is good in other phases of the game as well, everything from simple possession to transition defense, but runs like that one are his superpower.

There was a lot of smoke this summer about a potential move to a club in the English Championship for a price nearing eight figures. Given his age and his skill set, that seems reasonable to me.


Every young, or young-ish player on the roster seemed to take a step forward other than Mason Toye. The 24-year-old managed just two goals in 726 minutes.

Because of Kamara and Quioto, Montréal survived that lack of production. But this marks three straight years of thinking this is the year for Toye, and it just hasn’t happened yet.

2023 Preview

Five Players to Build Around

  • Quioto (FW/AM/W): He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has always been mercurial, but he showed why so many have said so often he’s got Best XI-level talent.
  • Joel Waterman (CB): Got almost no fanfare, but Waterman was excellent at the back for this team and is one of the best distributors out of the back in MLS.
  • Kamal Miller (CB): Continues to be one of the best LCBs in the league, and is born to play in a back three like Nancy’s.
  • Alistair Johnston (RWB/RCB/RB): Getting him for just $1m in GAM last winter from Nashville proved to be an extremely shrewd pick-up.
  • Samuel Piette (DM): Always a rugged ball winner, Piette seemed to level up in his ability on the ball and in picking meaningful passes.

Offseason Priority

I thought Wanyama was the best d-mid in MLS this year, so when he announced a few weeks back he wouldn’t be returning to Montréal… ooof. Now, there are conflicting stories about what’s happening – some say he’s out of contact entirely, while others say he’s got a fourth-year option he wants the club to hit, and he’ll walk (or go into the Re-Entry Draft and hope someone else hits it) if he doesn’t get what he wants.

Whatever the actual story is, Wanyama is the No. 1 priority this winter, and I’m of the opinion that letting him go would be a form of madness. They have to bring him back. Once that’s taken care of (however it’s taken care of), the next step has to be replacing Mihailovic and then Kone.

And that lays bare the stark reality that Montréal could very well go into 2023 needing to replace three of their four starting midfielders. It can be done – Philly have annually replaced a ton of talent, as have NYCFC – but most teams who lose that many high-quality contributors end up taking a massive step backwards year over year (Colorado and New England say hi).

It’s going to be a big, big winter for this team.