New York City Football Club face on CF Montréal at Stade Saputo this weekend.
Hi Tom, thanks for speaking with us. How long have you been covering Canadian soccer?
I've been covering Canadian soccer intermittently for the last six years, and on a daily basis for the last seven months as managing editor of Canadian Soccer Daily (@cansoccerdaily), covering everything from CF Montréal and other Canadian MLS teams to both the men's and women's national teams to the Canadian Premier League and more.
What has been your highlight in that time?
A personal highlight for me in recent times has been leading the new Canadian Soccer Daily brand into the great community of Canadian soccer fans and seeing how well that community has taken to us. Canada has a strong base of passionate and knowledgeable soccer fans and CF Montréal definitely falls into that bracket, supported intensely by those who follow. From a CFM perspective, it's been great to see that though key players left for European moves last winter, such as Alistair Johnston to Celtic, Ismaël Koné to Watford, and Djordje Mihailovic to AZ Alkmaar, under new manager Hernán Losada, the team has been able to rebuild around a Canadian core and remain a highly competitive team.
What are your thoughts on the team’s start to the season?
You can file this one under "a mixed bag." It started dreadfully, not only with the aforementioned key player departures but a change in manager and playing style as the club transitioned to Losada's rule from Wilfried Nancy, who led them to second in the East in 2022 with an attractive and slick brand of soccer. CFM lost six of their first seven league games of the season to nil amid rampant injury troubles that at one point had the number of first-teamers missing into the double figures. It was form so bad that some were already questioning Losada's suitability for the role.
But all change brings teething problems and all good things take time. Montréal's turnaround has been remarkable, with seven wins and only three defeats from their last 12 in the league. The bad news for NYCFC is that Montréal's home form is utterly imperious. They've won their last six straight at Stade Saputo without conceding a single goal over that run, breaking and then re-breaking a club record in the process. Even when they don't play to their full potential, they find a way to win games in front of their own fans.
What are your hopes for the 2023 season with Montréal?
Montréal's outspoken sporting director Olivier Renard has made it clear that not only is the expectation that the team reach the expanded postseason but that they do so comfortably and while playing entertaining soccer to boot. But a more tempered objective assessment would be that, given all Montréal have been through since the end of last season, meeting the lower bar of simply ensuring they are part of the playoff picture would be enough for some. After all, fans and teams know all too well that anything can happen in the MLS Cup Playoffs. The key thing is that CFM seem to be learning the lessons of their traumatizing early-season struggles. The unity is back and the players have clearly acclimatized to Losada's way of doing things. A big thing for them to address beyond Saturday, though, is their form on the road, where they have just one win all season. That has to improve, and quickly.
What do you think will be the deciding factor in Saturday’s game?
Much of Montréal's stunning home form has been built on a Canadian spine. Goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois, centre-back Joel Waterman, and central midfielder Mathieu Choinière have been key components, none more so than Sirois. The 22-year-old is actually a fascinating story; on loan in the Canadian Premier League last year, he entered the season as CFM's backup 'keeper but was thrust into the action unexpectedly on opening day due to an in-game injury to No. 1 James Pantemis. Since then, he's not looked back, making status his own and becoming impenetrable at Stade Saputo. The last time he conceded a goal at home was April 15. The silver lining for NYCFC fans? That run has to end soon, much like New York's own winless run has to end sometimes.
A subplot to watch out for will be whether Choinière is fit enough. The all-action midfielder has been arguably Montréal's standout player in 2023 but missed last week's draw at Charlotte with an ankle injury. If he's not back, the balance of the midfield battle could tip in NYCFC's favour.
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