5 candidates for CF Montréal's head coaching job following Hernán Losada's departure
For a second straight offseason, CF Montréal are looking for a new head coach, as they announced that they’re parting ways with Hernán Losada on Thursday morning.
Even though Losada was fresh off completing just his first season with Montréal, they decided that it was best they look elsewhere for 2024, as Losada’s debut campaign came with mixed reviews.
Le CF Montréal met fin à sa relation professionnelle avec Hernán Losada >>> https://t.co/GSmehwi5Nd— CF Montréal (@cfmontreal) November 9, 2023
CF Montréal parts ways with Hernán Losada >>> https://t.co/PwmKWRPR8t#CFMTL pic.twitter.com/Zrjod0f6Ng
From a positive standpoint, the team only missed a playoff spot on the last game of the season, made it to a Canadian Championship final, and saw good improvements from players like Mathieu Choinière, Nathan Saliba, Jonathan Sirois and Joel Waterman, so it’s not as if it was a season of failure.
At the same time, they also struggled massively to begin and end the season, underperformed offensively, and had the second-worst road record in the league. Not all of that was Losada’s fault, to be fair, as he did inherit a rebuilding roster and had to follow in the footsteps of Wilfried Nancy, who is regarded as one of the best coaches in MLS, but given that Losada also fell out with the team’s only DP, Victor Wanyama, and other players (namely, Sean Rea), he didn’t help himself, either.
Because of that, Montréal has decided to hit the reset button, as they felt that a fresh voice is what’s needed heading into 2024.
Now, it’ll be interesting to see how the club decides the best replacement for Losada. There is no shortage of options, but it’s still a tough hire, as they’ll have learned from their endeavours last year.
With that in mind, however, here are five names that could make sense for Montréal right now - as well as a look at why they’d make sense, and why it might not work out.
Why he makes sense:
Much like when this job was vacant last year, or when the Toronto FC job was available earlier this year, Bobby Smyrniotis’s name immediately came to the minds of many as a potential candidate to take over for Losada, and for good reason.
Given that he’s coming off a season where Forge made the CPL Final for a fifth straight time, claiming their fourth playoff crown, he proved once again that he’s one of the top coaches in Canada, as he’s been for a while now.
A tactically astute mind, he plays an exciting brand of soccer, too, employing a style that could help Montréal be more dangerous in the attack, while not sacrificing their defensive game.
Plus, he’d make sense as a fit for what Montréal wants to do, as well - compete, while developing youth. Given that Smyrnoits has pushed for his four playoff titles, one regular season title and more all while developing young talent, he knows how to compete while trusting young players.
You add that he interviewed for this job last year, and it feels like he has a strong chance at getting the job, allowing him to make the jump up to another level, one that he recently hinted he’d be interested in making.
Bobby Smyrniotis on his future: “You have to be ambitious. I have to look forward and if something were to come up, that was very good, because what I have here is very good…”— Peter Galindo (@GalindoPW) October 29, 2023
Why he wouldn't:
It’s worth noting that while Smyrniotis could be open to moving up, he did sign a big extension with Forge this year, one that gave him all sorts of control at Forge so his services won’t come cheap, which could be a deterrent for Montréal.
Also, he’s not fluent in French, which in a French-speaking market like Montréal, is always less than ideal.
Plus, he has a lot of reasons to stay at Forge, continuing to build his dynasty, especially seeing that his team has the Concacaf Champions Cup to play in next year - something that Montréal doesn’t have the luxury of doing, for example.
Tommy Wheeldon Jr.:
Why he makes sense:
While Smyrniotis has undoubtedly been one of the best coaches in the country over the last five years, right alongside him has been Cavalry’s Tommy Wheeldon Jr, who has built quite the project in Calgary.
Playoff success has eluded Wheeldon Jr., but his teams have been dominant in the regular season, winning two regular season titles (and tying for first in another), making them by far the most dominant regular season team in the CPL’s history.
🚨CPL AWARDS🏆@CPLCavalryFC's Tommy Wheeldon Jr. takes home the 2023 #CanPL Coach of the Year, becoming the first manager to claim that honour twice, having also won in 2019— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) October 27, 2023
Plus, he’s also got a history of developing talent while not sacrificing their ability to win, pushing the likes of Joel Waterman, Victor Loturi, Dominick Zator, Goteh Ntignee, Aribim Pepple and more through his ranks and onto bigger and better things, such as the CanMNT, in some cases.
Also a strong tactical mind, he’s been quite flexible over his five years at Cavalry, too, showing that his team can win in different ways, which could help him adapt to this side.
Because of all of that, there’s no reason why Wheeldon Jr., couldn’t at least get a look, allowing him to throw his name into the ring.
Why he wouldn’t:
For all of Wheeldon Jr’s success in the regular season, Montréal may be wary of his mixed record in elimination games, given the importance the MLS Cup Playoffs typically have versus the regular season.
Plus, much like with Smyrniotis, the French language obstacle could prove to be a hindrance for him, too.
And seeing how embedded Wheeldon Jr is in the Calgary soccer landscape, it could be hard to see him leaving that for a job like this Montréal one, which hasn’t exactly been a beacon of stability over the last five years.
Along with the fact that Cavalry has some unfinished business to take care of next year, including a first run in the Concacaf Champions Cup, and the CPL playoffs, Wheeldon Jr. could feel that staying with Cavalry for one more year could benefit him more in the long run should he want to move up another level.
Marc Dos Santos:
Why he makes sense:
As many know, Montréal is a passionate market, one that rallies hard behind its sports teams. Because of that, however, it can put a lot of pressure on coaches, especially newer ones.
Yet, that wouldn’t be a problem for Marc Dos Santos, who coached the club from 2009 to 2011, winning the USL Championship in 2009. A Montréal native, it’d be a triumphant return home for Dos Santos, too, who has spent the 12 years since in Brazil, in the States, and even in Canada, but not in his hometown.
It feels like Dos Santos is due another shot at a head coaching job, too, as he’s been at LAFC the last two seasons after his two-and-a-half season stint with the Vancouver Whitecaps didn’t go to plan, helping LAFC win the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup double last year, playing a huge role in that success.
Bittersweet day for Maxime Crépeau. Congrats to Max and Marc Dos Santos. MLS Cup Champions. Two individuals who contributed greatly to soccer in Ottawa.— AJ Jakubec (@TheSuperAJ) November 5, 2022
And overall, there’s a lot to like with Dos Santos’s resume, as other than his stint in MLS, he’s typically won everywhere he’s been, while usually employing an entertaining brand of football and developing youngsters.
Plus, you could argue that his MLS stint could be a positive rather than a negative in his prospects of receiving the Montréal job, as he’s mentioned that he learned a lot about himself as a coach during that Vancouver stint.
Because of all that, as well as the fact that he speaks French and knows this market, arguably could make him a favourite in this process, as well.
Why he wouldn’t:
After seeing how his last venture as an MLS head coach went, Dos Santos might prefer to stay in LA, where he’s become a key part of their history, on his second stint with the club.
Not only that, but seeing that he had a positive first stint with Montréal, where he’s still fondly remembered, he might not want to risk ruining that by returning.
Especially seeing that Dos Santos will have had a sour taste about how he first left the club, which came during their last season in the USL before making the jump up to MLS, which put him on a shorter leash than he perhaps otherwise would’ve been, that’s something he’ll remember.
Why he makes sense:
In the CPL’s five-year history, there is only one manager not named Bobby Smyrniotis with a playoff title on their resume - Pa Modou Kah, who led Pacific FC to the 2021 title in Forge’s stadium.
After stepping into the Pacific job ahead of the 2020 season, following a 2019 campaign to forget, Kah did an excellent job in turning the club around quickly, turning them into a championship outfit in just his second season.
From there, he made the move to MLS Next Pro side North Texas, an affiliate of FC Dallas, where he had a mixed first campaign, doing well enough to make the playoffs, but then parted ways the club after just one year.
Soon after that, however, he was able to earn an assistant job in MLS with Charlotte FC this season, allowing him to continue to grow as a head coach.
And over the past year, he’s become a pretty sought-after commodity, interviewing for several vacant MLS jobs, including the San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids head coaching position, as many will have been impressed with the results he got with Pacific and North Texas.
So for Montréal, he could make a lot of sense to look at, as he knows MLS well, developed all sorts of talent at Pacific, and looks like someone who is primed to make a step up.
Plus, as a bonus, Kah speaks French, too - one of seven languages that he can speak, which is also a big asset as a coach.
Why he wouldn’t:
Among the names on this list, Kah is the youngest at 43, and has coached the shortest amount of time.
Because of that, some might wonder if he'll want to accumulate some more experience, especially before taking a job like this Montréal one, which has seen a lot of turnover over the last decade, making it a riskier job.
At the same time, given that coaches across MLS are skewing younger as teams realize the value of fresh ideas, age shouldn't be that big of a factor from Montréal's perspective, especially given how Kah's teams quickly became winners under his tutelage, so that's also worth noting.
Why he makes sense:
Speaking of former Montréal Impact head coaches, Mauro Biello also fits that bill, as he was the club’s bench boss from 2015 to 2017, after being an assistant from 2012 to 2015.
Plus, he did a pretty solid job during that stint as a head coach, too, leading his team to the Eastern Conference semi-finals in 2015, and the Eastern Conference finals in 2016, before struggling in 2017, leading to his departure.
Since then, he’s been with the Canadian Men’s National Team as an assistant coach for six years, helping oversee their rise from Concacaf afterthought to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Mauro Biello is the man who will step in to be the new interim head coach of the #CanMNT 🇨🇦— Josh Deming (@tv_jjd) August 28, 2023
Similar to Mexico with Jimmy Lozano, I believe Biello could earn the full time job. If not Giovanni Savarese or a CPL coach?
Currently the CanMNT’s interim head coach as they seek a replacement for his former boss, John Herdman, one can wonder if this stint will give him an itch to be a head coach again, especially seeing that he’s noted that he’d love to have the CanMNT job.
Because of that, it could also make sense for him to return to Montréal. Given that he knows the club as well as anyone, having grown up in the city before spending most of his 20-year career playing there, he’d be a familiar face to help turn the ship around.
Especially now that he’s a far more mature coach than he was over a half-decade ago, this could be a chance for him to show how much he’s grown since, too.
Why he wouldn’t:
Head coaches rarely get a second stint at a club, and given that Biello only left the club less than a decade ago, it’ll be hard to imagine him getting another look as Montréal’s bench boss.
Of course, given how long he’s been with the CanMNT, it could make sense for him to want to head back into the club game if he doesn’t get the full-time head coach job there, but it’ll be hard to imagine him getting the Montréal job so soon again.
Given his connections with the club, another role with the club could make sense, but it’d be up to him to accept that, such as an academy position or other.
Therefore, it feels like despite his connections to the club, Biello could have long odds at getting this job, although his experience and familiarity remains a key asset in these discussions.