Losada firing 'much bigger' than missing playoffs, says CF Montreal sporting director

MONTREAL — Olivier Renard made it clear at season’s end that he wasn’t pleased with CF Montreal’s play this year.

On Thursday, he decided to do something about it.

The club’s vice-president and chief sporting officer fired head coach Hernan Losada and assistant coach Sebastian Setti a few weeks after the Major League Soccer team finished two points short of the playoff cutline.

Renard, who now begins his search for a new coach for a second straight off-season, said missing the post-season wasn’t the determining factor in his decision to let Losada go, however.

"It's much bigger than that," he said at Montreal’s training centre. "When we decided to give the chance to Hernan, there was the philosophy of the club, the way that we want to play, the way that we want to develop a few players — altogether I think we didn't reach what we wanted.”

"In my discussions with the coach after the season, I didn't get the impression that we would start charting a path to where we want to go. That's why I made this decision," he added.

Montreal finished 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 12-17-5 record after Wilfried Nancy, a coach of the year finalist, left the club last December to join the Columbus Crew despite having one year left on his contract.

Losada, a 41-year-old from Argentina, took over later that month on a two-year contract. He previously served as head coach of D.C. United in 2021 and 2022.

Although Renard said falling short of the playoffs isn’t what forced his hand, the way it happened might have.

Montreal controlled its own destiny and could have clinched a playoff spot with a win on MLS Decision Day — the final day of the regular season.

Instead, Losada’s side was eliminated after losing 2-1 to Nancy’s Crew and watching the New York Red Bulls beat Nashville SC 1-0 with a stoppage-time penalty.

The loss capped a run where Montreal claimed just six of 27 available points in its last nine games.

"What we showed in Columbus was revelatory,” said Renard. “I don't think we gave it our all to get ourselves into the playoffs."

His successor will be Montreal's 10th head coach since the team entered the league in 2012.

Renard, who joined the club in 2019, argued that these types of changes are normal in the modern soccer landscape. Montreal is the 11th MLS team to change coaches this year.

"If I can find the ideal coach to stay five, six, 10 seasons, I would be more than happy," he said. "But the reality is like that."

Renard is looking for someone who will follow the team’s philosophies and get his players to buy in from the first game until the last.

He said Montreal will look “everywhere” for Losada’s successor — including within MLS and the club.

"When I look at the number of calls I've received in the last couple hours … there are a lot of coaches who want to work at CF Montreal," he said. “The important thing is to find a good one.”

Montreal struggled on the road all season, finishing the campaign with a 2-13-2 record. The club’s 36 goals also ranked tied for fourth-last in MLS.

The team began the season with three points in seven games before turning things around with seven wins, two draws and three losses in their next 12 to put themselves in the playoff picture.

Renard acknowledged that Losada faced a tricky start with several injured veterans, but ultimately felt the team should have done better.

"Not all of this is because we had a young team, it's because our preparation wasn't managed well,” he said. “The complicated start to the season was our fault, and the end of the season, with the six for 27 points, is also our fault.”

Under Nancy in 2022, Montreal set franchise records in wins (20) and points (65) before losing in the conference semifinals. Earlier in the season, Nancy had formally asked to leave the club after a verbal altercation with owner Joey Saputo.

Losada took over a team that had already undergone sweeping changes before his first day on the job. Key players Djordje Mihailovic, Alistair Johnston and Ismael Koné all moved on to European clubs.

Some players, such as Canadian international midfielder Mathieu Choinière, broke out under Losada while others didn’t thrive in his system.

Designated player Victor Wanyama — a 32-year-old Kenyan with 154 English Premier League appearances — was one of a few players who expressed their frustration at season's end.

"My decision does not come from the players, it's much bigger than that,” said Renard. “It's the style of play that we wanted, that I didn't see enough of."

Losada was the league’s youngest active head coach when he took over at D.C. at age 38.

On top of being viewed as an up-and-comer, he also earned a reputation as one of the league’s strictest coaches during his time at United. He required players to do weigh-ins twice weekly.

Before moving to North America, Losada had been manager of the Belgian club Beerschot.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2023.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press