By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 31, 2022) US Soccer Players – Back in 2016, the then-Montreal Impact reached the Eastern Conference final. In a legendary two-legged battle with Toronto FC, Montreal fell 7-5 on aggregate after extra time. That team finished 5th in the regular season, an unnecessary reminder that what always counts in Major League Soccer is how a team does in the playoffs. With that in mind, 2022’s Montreal team looks capable of ending any question of the club’s best season.
An outfit long known for living on the edges of the Eastern Conference playoff contenders has leveled up in 2022. Head coach Wilfried Nancy is doing special things with the club, and CF Montreal will be a real threat to make a deep run in the postseason. Right now, CF Montreal is holding onto 2nd-place in the Eastern Conference. American midfielder Djordje Mihailovic is at the center of Montreal’s potential.
Over the last two seasons, Mihailovic ranks among the most prolific creative players in MLS. In 2021, the former Chicago Fire academy player had a strong argument for inclusion in the list of finalists for MVP. A log jam of quality midfield performances across the league, and the mandated three-forward formation, also kept Mihailovic off the MLS Best XI for 2021.
Mihailovic will get one more chance to show MLS what he can do. It might not mean collecting the official accolades he was good enough to win last season, but it could mean putting the finishing touches on the best season in CF Montreal history.
With a preseason to prepare and build on last year’s foundation, Nancy has turned his team into one of the best in the league. Montreal improved in every area of the game from 2021 to 2022, with the club currently sitting sixth in expected goals scored and second in expected goals against across MLS. Montreal is getting a healthy and fit Mihailovic back into the squad at just the right time.
A long injury layoff in June and July denied Mihailovic time during the middle of the season. After his return, Nancy has cautiously worked his star attacker back into the lineup. Now, Montreal and Mihailovic have extra incentive to make this season count in the chase for the club’s first MLS Cup.
Per an official announcement on August 24, Mihailovic will be moving from MLS to the Eredivisie in 2023. CF Montreal agreed to send Mihailovic to AZ Alkmaar for the Dutch top division in January for a reported club-record fee of $6 million. That’s a big return (minus 10% for the Fire) on a player Montreal snagged for $1 million in MLS allocation money.
A move to Europe was always the goal for Mihailovic, something Montreal understood when they acquired him ahead of the 2021 season. With the end of the 2021 season holding so much promise, there will be additional motivation to see what Montreal can do now.
“I would also like to thank Oliver (Renard), Vassili (Cremanzidis), Joey (Saputo) and Gabriel (Gervais) for their understanding,” Mihailovic said in the club’s release. “Europe has always been my dream and they gave me the chance to pursue this new path in my career. But it’s not over yet! This season we have the opportunity to do something special for the club and the city,”
The Eredivisie seems tailor-made for Mihailovic’s skill set. He joins an ambitious club at AZ Alkmaar, one with a history of Americans. Striker Jozy Altidore played 67 games for AZ between 2011 and 2013, scoring 38 goals over two seasons. Aron Johannsson scored 20 goals in a season and a half in Alkmaar before moving on to Germany.
That history of Americans in the Netherlands runs deep. Mihailovic adds his name to a list that includes John O’Brien, Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, Earnie Stewart, and a host of others who played in the country.
Altidore played a role in AZ’s announcement video of Mihailovic’s signing. In it, the Montreal midfielder jumps on a video call with the now Mexico-based Altidore, with Altidore extolling the virtues of the picturesque Dutch town.
Dutch soccer’s reputation for developing attacking players is legendary across the world. The move should mean more growth and an even brighter future for Mihailovic.
Before Mihailovic trades Montreal for Alkmaar, however, he has that unfinished business. With six games left in the regular season, CF Montreal is closing in on a playoff berth and a high seed in the Eastern Conference tournament. Deal done, Mihailovic has his chance to make one more lasting impression on MLS and Montreal before his European dream begins.
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Photo by Daniel Lea – CSM via ZUMA Press Wire – ISIPhotos.com