Why Mathieu Choinière's strong performances with CF Montréal should earn him a CanMNT call for June
CF Montréal are flying once again.
With six straight victories in all competitions, Montréal have done well to leave the disappointment of a slow start long behind them.
Leading the way? Homegrown midfielder, Mathieu Choinière, who has hit another level as of late with his performances for his team.
In his sixth season with the club, the 24-year-old has been a difference-maker for Montréal this season, stepping up with his play on both sides of the ball in midfield.
As a result, many are calling for him to be included in Canada’s Men’s National Team ahead of their Nations League camp, including former Montréal Impact and CanMNT legend, Patrice Bernier.
“Mathieu Choinière is probably the best Canadian performing player on an MLS team,” Bernier posted to his Twitter on Monday. “Team Canada should consider him for the upcoming camps for the Nations League and the Gold Cup.”
And he’s not the only one, as the push for Choinière to play for Canada has only gotten stronger over recent weeks, something that doesn’t look to be slowing time anytime soon.
In form for Montréal:
Through 13 games in all competitions, Choinière’s numbers stand out immediately.
Mathieu Choinière is in red-hot form🔥— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) April 30, 2023
After a goal last week, Choinière already has 1G/1A at HT of this #CFMTL clash vs #SportingKC, putting him up to 2G/2A on the year
He'd playing like someone who wants a #CanMNT call... in midfield, to boot👀pic.twitter.com/0DrkVYROXO
With two goals and three assists, including two goals and two assists in 11 MLS games, he’s already tied his career-high for goals in a campaign, and has bested his career-high for most assists and goal contributions in a season. Considering it’s only May, that’s not bad at all from him.
Yet, that’s arguably been the biggest part of his recent rise - his offensive play.
Always a dangerous player offensively, he’s taken a step forward in that regard this season, and that’s shown in his numbers.
For example, look at his FBRef percentile chart, to get an idea.
Mathieu Choinière in MLS this season for #CFMTL: get the ball to the final third and make things HAPPEN— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) May 15, 2023
Pretty good defensive numbers, too
A whole lot of green on his @fbref MLS percentile chart#CanMNT pic.twitter.com/wttYv7O3Ea
There, when compared against all midfielders in MLS this season, Choinière is in the 92nd percentile in non-penalty goals, 87th percentile in non-penalty expected goals (xG), 87th percentile in shots, 87th percentile in assists, 94th percentile in expected assists (xA), and 90th percentile in npxG+xA.
Among his midfield peers in MLS, he’s been elite at making things happen in the final third, both in terms of generating chances and finishing them.
Also in the top 20% of midfielders in terms of shot-creating actions, progressive carries and touches in the box, that shows that he’s done a pretty good job of getting the ball to those dangerous areas himself, too.
That’s been reflected in the eye test, as well. Before, Choinière was excellent at arriving in the final third and then making things happen, but now, he can bring the ball there himself, in different ways. Armed with a high soccer IQ, and able to pass, dribble and run, those skills have been key in his ability to progress the ball.
Given that he’s been playing as a midfielder, that’s a huge skill, as it’s helped Montréal generate more chances for their attackers. Early in the season, a lack of ball progression in midfield was a big reason for their struggles, and Choinière’s growth in that area has helped them massively.
They’ve got pieces in the final third that can make things happen, such as Romell Quioto, Bryce Duke and Sean Rea, but they need the ball to generate chances. There, Choinière has stepped up, and it’s been a big boost to his teams.
All while remaining relatively responsible defensively, it’s given his team the balance they lacked in midfield early on, helping them solve their woes there.
Could he earn a Canada call?
Because of all that, it’s led to the chatter about Choinière potentially getting a CanMNT call, and understandably so given his offensive form.
At the same time, when considering his overall play, as well as where he’d fit in for Canada, does that idea hold up?
And when looking at it, the answer is clear - absolutely.
The big reason why? Canada’s need for more midfield depth.
This isn’t the first time that Choinière’s been in top form, but his best minutes before this year often came at wing back, except for a short stint in midfield last summer. For Canada, that just happens to be their deepest position, making it hard for players to draw in unless they’re dominating (a conundrum wing back Mo Farsi is facing this year, for example).
In midfield, however, they’re not blessed with such depth. Beyond Stephen Eustáquio, Ismaël Koné and Jonathan Osorio, there are a lot of question marks for Canada there.
Atiba Hutchinson is still around, but not for much longer given his age, while Mark-Anthony Kaye has struggled with consistency for Toronto FC this season. Along with Samuel Piette’s injury troubles (something Osorio has also dealt with), and Liam Fraser’s mixed campaign in the Belgium second division, it has left Canada’s midfield group pretty wide open for most of 2023 beyond Eustáquio and Koné (as well as Osorio when healthy).
Yet, new options haven’t really stepped up. Victor Loturi has been one, and deservedly got a call last camp, but beyond him, new names have been limited.
Therefore, with Choinière in the form he’s in, playing in midfield to boot, it makes him a perfect candidate to slot in to help out.
At the very least, his performances in MLS would give him an edge in a battle versus someone like Kaye and Hutchinson, for example, even if that pair are likely inclusions due to other intangibles.
Because of that, there’s no reason why Choinière shouldn’t at least be in the conversation to make the squad, and you can certainly make an argument that he’d be among Canada’s top four midfielders right now.
For a Canadian side that learned how important midfielders are at the top level, they’ve got to look at all in-form options available to them, Choinière chief among them.
What’s the future hold?
Now, however, it’ll be interesting to see what Choinière’s future with Montréal looks like.
Given that he’s a homegrown who was born and raised in the province of Québec, he won’t be going anywhere unless Europe comes calling (which could be a possibility given his play, to be fair), so it’s expected he continues to play a bigger role for them going forward.
BUT 🔔🔔#CFMTL GO UP 2-0 🍁🏆— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) May 9, 2023
Mathieu Choiniere sends in a PERFECT cross to find Chinonso Offor for the header, just minutes after opening the scoring vs. #TFClive#CanChamp | 🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE pic.twitter.com/zdgGOyz47b
Yet, with the return of Samuel Piette on the horizon as he recovers from his injury, that could take key minutes away from Choinière in midfield if Montréal keeps playing with a double-pivot with Victor Wanyama. Choinière could play higher up the pitch in either a single or dual #10 role, as he has done before, but his best form has come deeper on the pitch either as a wing back or in the middle.
Therefore, once Piette returns, it’ll be intriguing to see if they switch to a midfield trio, with Choinière besides Piette and Wanyama, with him and Piette playing as #8s. If not, might we see Choinière slot back to left wing back, a role that Montréal has rotated a whole host of players through?
All of those are possibilities, but from a Canadian perspective, they’ll hope he continues to play in midfield, and for good reason.
Of course, that would have more benefit for his CanMNT hopes, but would also be good for his development, as he’s a very cerebral player, one who’d benefit from the freedom of being able to orchestrate play from the middle.
Montréal’s benefited from that recently, and will look to continue to rely on it, as Choinière continues his breakout year with more strong performances.