By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 26, 2021) US Soccer Players – The plan in Montreal was always to use 2021 to start over. Just not this way. The club made news just a few weeks ago when it announced a name and logo change. Gone was the Impact, the name it has used for the entirety of its existence dating back to 1992 in the lower divisions. Club de Foot Montreal replaced it, a name that hews closer to the francophone identity of North America’s most European major city.
Starting over with a new name and logo is one thing. Starting over with yet another head coach is something else. A club known for head coaching turnover is once again considering its options. Coming just ahead of the start of the 2021 season, the timing is not ideal.
Unlike previous changes, this one is bigger than win/loss records. Thierry Henry’s arrival in Montreal in November of 2019 was never supposed to end so soon. Even with the likelihood of European offers, the commitment to the Montreal project was there from the beginning. Like so many things, the pandemic changed that scope.
In his statement announcing his decision to step down, Henry cited the very difficult personal situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions kept him from his family for a full year. With MLS likely to relocate its Canadian teams to the United States for the start of the MLS season, he felt it necessary to bow out.
CF Montreal must now make a difficult choice. Install someone from within the club, likely on an interim basis, and engage in an in-depth search for a new permanent hire while the season unfolds. Or they scramble to find a permanent choice now when the process is sure to be rushed.
What is obvious is that Montreal has no option but to change as preseason looms. The pandemic means everyone gets some benefit of the doubt, but we already saw last season that MLS clubs will make moves. Coaching and personnel changes still happened along with expectations for success in whatever the 2021 season brings.
CF Montreal is about to find out how attractive the coaching job might be, smack in the middle of a slowly regressing pandemic with all of the complications that entail. It’s tough to put the coaching merry-go-round behind the club CF Montreal is again facing the question of what it wants to be. At no point in the club’s MLS history has the answer to that question been clear. Perhaps the only certain thing to say about its decade in the league is that Montreal has always been long on potential but short on delivery.
While much of MLS has moved forward, either into the international transfer market or by focusing on producing its own talent, Montreal has remained stuck in a short-term mindset. The club isn’t bringing in the type of South American talent that now dominates in MLS, and it hasn’t shown a consistent commitment to its academy.
Henry’s technical approach showed little commitment to a set of players or a formation over an odd 2020 for all of the league’s clubs. There are certainly questions about the roster.
The club traded a possible $1 million to the Chicago Fire in December for attacking midfielder Djordje Mihailovic. It’s hard to see an incoming coach designing without Mihailovic in mind. Montreal starts camp on Monday with Mihailovic one of nine joining the squad for 2021 along with six academy players.
Sporting Director Olivier Rennard fended off questions linking former Argentina international Gabriel Batistuta to the CF Montreal job, saying he has had not had contact with the coach or his representatives. Batistuta is just the sort of well-known name that could help push the club through the transition of its brand identity.
The focus for Montreal right now is the same as it was last time. Stability with its head coach. Without that, it’s very difficult to build in this league. Anything can happen over the course of a season. Clubs that aren’t willing to spend significant money like Atlanta, Toronto, and LAFC or invest heavily in their academies like Philadelphia and FC Dallas need steady hands on the controls at the head coach and general manager positions.
Reigning MLS Cup champion Columbus, and Seattle, the Crew’s opponent in the final, stand out as good examples of how competent, committed leadership can push a team to elite status. Since Montreal doesn’t spend like Atlanta or Toronto, it needs to emulate Columbus and Seattle.
Coaching stability. Recognizing and recruiting established MLS players alongside the occasional spend on talent. Seeing how the league is changing and responding in real time. That’s the game for a club like Montreal.
More From Jason Davis:
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- Americans in the Austrian Bundesliga
- Tony Sanneh: “I think it’s our responsibility when we have a platform to use it.”
- More Americans in the Championship
Logo courtesy of CF Montreal