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Ahead of facing Lionel’s Messi Inter Miami, Montreal show MLS Next Pro to MLS pipeline isn’t just for players

On Sunday, another team will try their best to hand Lionel Messi and Inter Miami their first loss of the season in the form of CF Montreal. Under the new leadership of coach Laurent Courtois, it’s a return to basics for Montreal as they look to turn the clock back to what they did well under Wilfried Nancy when he managed the club from 2021-2022 after making his mark as an assistant since 2016. When they can’t bring Nancy back from the Columbus Crew where he won the MLS Cup last season, the next best thing is to hire Courtois who managed the MLS Next Pro side the Columbus Crew 2.

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Courtois has become the first MLS Next Pro coach to jump right to an MLS head coaching job and he likely won’t be the last as the path is one that goes deeper than just with players. Courtois had a large hand in the Crew’s MLS Cup victory with players like goalkeeper Patrick Schulte finding their feet with him in MLS Next Pro, and while it’s early, four of the top 11 players by minutes logged in Montreal are 24 or younger. If you’re good enough to play, you’ll get an opportunity under Courtois no matter what your age is. 

Leading the Crew 2 to become Next Pro champions in 2022 to then supplying championship depth for the Crew in 2023 is exactly how the Next Pro to MLS pipeline is supposed to operate. An attack-minded coach that is inventive in possession, Courtois may be the first coach to make the jump directly to MLS but he won’t be the last. Starting his time in Montreal, Courtois has led them to a win and a draw but stopping Luis Suarez and Messi will be his toughest test yet come Sunday afternoon. 

A positive of coming from MLS Next Pro is that Courtois is used to rotating rosters. After winning the championship with Crew 2, he then had to teach his system to a new set of players which is exactly what he now has to do in Montreal. That along with the systems in place to assist new coaches are reasons why Next Pro is a great stepping stone for new coaches before coming to Major League Soccer.

“They’re getting a winner, you know? And so when you look at Laurent’s time as Columbus Crew 2 head coach, he was able to coach a team in such a way that they want, and that’s what they made,” MLS NEXT Pro Senior Vice President of Competition & Operations Ali Curtis said about what Montreal are getting in their new coach. “In two seasons they won one championship and made two finals. That there speaks volumes and at the same time he was able to integrate a number of different players into into the team. Whether that was first-team players from MLS or the MLS Next Pro players, as well as players from Columbus’ academy. So he had the ability to integrate players.”

Facing Miami, Montreal may not be able to keep their undefeated run going but it’s clear that they’re in good hands under Courtois. For a team that hasn’t had a consistent presence at head coach since Jesse Marsch, giving Courtois time is critical. Montreal have an impressive academy but he’ll need time for it to bear fruit. 

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