CF Montreal welcomes back national team players as training camp continues

MONTREAL — An influx of talent helped CF Montreal kick off the second week of its pre-season camp on Monday.

Montreal welcomed back defensive midfielder Samuel Piette, defenders Joel Waterman and Kamal Miller and goalkeeper James Pantemis —who all represented Canada at the 2022 World Cup—and defender Robert Thorkelsson, who received his first senior call-up with the Icelandic national team.

Piette and Waterman were the only two that trained with the group, as the others focused individual work and medical tests at Centre Nutrilait.

There was a noticeable change in pace in this first session of the week, a far cry from the more relaxed tone that accompanied previous training sessions.

"We continued to work progressively so now that week two is here, we can better evaluate the players and I’m pleased with everyone," said head coach Hernan Losada. "This week and next week as well we’re going to keep increasing the tempo to get ready and integrate some tactical components."

Losada’s philosophy is beginning to break through in the drills he is organizing. Much like his predecessor Wilfried Nancy, the Argentine will look to keep the ball and use possession to assert dominance over the flow of the game.

Numerous passing drills saw the central defenders act as catalysts to start attacks. Given the technical ability of the club’s three starting central defenders who — along with deep-lying midfielder Victor Wanyama — all ranked in the top 25 passers in Major League Soccer, this comes as no surprise.

"What we did last year was amazing," said Waterman. "New year and new coaching staff, but to be playing in a back three is where I’m comfortable. Looking at the talent and the guys we have, the way we played suited us and we have an identity now."

The session on Monday also saw the arrival of the club’s newest signing; 21-year-old midfielder Ilias Iliadis from the reserve team of Greek Super League giants Panathinaikos.

Having started out as a defensive ball-winning midfielder, the Greek youth international transformed into a more offensive-minded box-to-box player with an ability to break lines and speed up the game.

It will take a while for Iliadis to incorporate into the overall plans of the team, but Losada was impressed with the Toronto-born youngster and is looking forward to tracking his progression throughout the season. He trained with the team in the first half of the session before continuing individual work alongside Waterman and Piette.

With Iliadis's transfer complete, there are seven central midfielders competing for two or three midfield spots, which could leave certain players with limited minutes.

As one of the best teams in MLS at keeping the ball, finding the right balance in order to control possession will be one of the highest priorities for Losada at the beginning of the season.

“I think my role is more of a six than an eight, but I’ve shown that I can be pretty flexible,” said Piette. “It’s going to be a challenge for a lot of players to cement their spot, but it’s early in training camp and we still have a lot of learning to do.”

Spirits seemed high at training, but Kei Kamara’s absence due to health reasons and his trade request continues to be a sore spot. The striker is currently on his way to Montreal and will continue to train on his own to recover his stamina before reporting to the team, but has yet to comment further.

"He’s still a Montreal player," said Losada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2023.

Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press