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CF Montreal: New hire Courtois 'checks all the boxes' as head coach

Laurent Courtois Crew Laurent Courtois - Columbus Crew

MONTREAL — As a recent winner with a knack for developing young players, Laurent Courtois was the fit CF Montreal was looking for in its next head coach.

"Laurent checked all the boxes we were looking for," president and chief executive officer Gabriel Gervais said Tuesday at Montreal’s training centre. "His desire to be part of this project was really important for us, his philosophy, his way of doing things, his experience with young players. We got our No. 1 person."

Courtois, of Lyon, France, also speaks French — only with a slightly different accent than the Québécois he’ll now be hearing on a daily basis.

The 45-year-old was introduced as Montreal’s head coach Tuesday after two seasons of overseeing Columbus Crew’s reserve team. He replaces Hernan Losada, who was fired in November after one year on the job.

Courtois arrives in Montreal with some accomplishments under his belt. Columbus Crew 2 won the Major League Soccer Next Pro title in 2022 and reached the final last year under his watch.

He also gained notice for developing young talent in Columbus by helping Canadian internationals Mo Farsi and Jacen Russell-Rowe, among others, graduate from the second team and into the first team.

Now he's ready for a new challenge in Montreal — and he's excited about the possibilities.

"It's almost a dream of mine as an adult,” Courtois said. "As soon as I put my feet down here, as soon as I started talking to people, it became an obsession for me.

"I think we have all the ingredients for an incredible success story in the medium to long term, and we’ll do everything we can for it to be in the short term."

The head coaching position in Montreal has been a revolving door, with Courtois now the 10th person to take over since the club entered MLS in 2012.

Before Losada, Wilfried Nancy left Montreal to become head coach of the Crew’s first team last off-season.

Nancy helped Montreal set franchise records in wins and points in 2022. Earlier in the season, he formally requested to leave the club after a verbal altercation with owner Joey Saputo.

After joking that he mostly speaks with Nancy about Spotify playlists because they share a love for Creole music, Courtois touched on Nancy’s unceremonious exit.

"I don’t care, (Nancy) doesn’t care, nobody cares (about what happened). (It's about) what are you doing today?” Courtois said. "He told me, 'this is great for you, buckle up and enjoy the ride.'"

Asked if he planned to reverse a trend and stay for the long term, Courtois preferred to focus on his two-year mandate.

"I'm here to do a project. They’ve trusted me with a mission," he said. "To talk about the future and longevity is pretentious.

"I hope the players, the club, we all help each other develop into the best version Montreal can be this year and next, we’ll see about the rest."

Last season, Montreal finished with a 12-17-5 record, including a 2-13-2 performance on the road, and missed the playoff cutline by two points.

Montreal vice-president and chief sporting officer Olivier Renard — who was absent Tuesday for personal reasons — said his decision to fire Losada had more to do with how the team played and how players developed than missing the post-season.

Montreal has a lot of youth on its roster — including midfielders Nathan Saliba (19), Bryce Duke (22) and Mathieu Choinière (24), and ‘keeper Jonathan Sirois (22) — and relies on academy players to enter the first team and contribute.

"What I want to emphasize is individual player development, 100 per cent,” Courtois said. “Especially with that pool of players."

Courtois also wants a team that plays with heart, whether it’s in training or a match. It's something Montreal’s brass felt was missing last year, especially on the road.

"Heart, energy, combativeness, call it what you want," he said. "What I want is for the guys and for the fans to see that we have a common goal — and that’s to give it our all."

In terms of concrete objectives, Gervais said Montreal’s management wants to see the club make the playoffs and have a chance to fight for the MLS Cup, as well as win the Canadian Championship and return to the CONCACAF Champions League in Courtois's first season.

Courtois's coaching staff will be announced at a later date, the club stated Monday. The first-year MLS head coach said he intends to keep some of the same staff.

Montreal kicks off its training camp with medical and physical testing on Saturday and Sunday, before travelling to Tucson, Ariz., to train until Jan. 28.

The club will return to Montreal from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4 and finish its pre-season in Florida. Montreal then begins its season at Orlando SC on Feb. 24. The home opener at Stade Saputo isn’t until April 13 against FC Cincinnati.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2024.