It doesn’t take long for it to become evident that Wilfried Nancy is a creative and compassionate person who also happens to be an innovative and impressive soccer coach. That was instantly recognized by the media who attended his introductory press conference, the players he coached against and will now lead, and the Columbus Crew supporters who have a new head coach writing the next chapter of Black & Gold history.
On Tuesday, Nancy became the eighth full-time head coach for the Crew and will be the man on the touchline leading the team in 2023. But because his introductory press conference arrived exactly a month before preseason preparation begins on Jan. 6, Nancy’s words carried extra meaning. We’re still months away from seeing how the Crew will ultimately play under his leadership.
So, when he was asked to describe his playing philosophy for fans, his response was thoughtful – and unique – as he said it will mimic a boxing match and a game of chess.
"These two keywords are really important to our style of play.”
“For me, I try to figure out an image to help my players understand what I want,” Nancy said in an exclusive club interview. “In terms of style of play, I think a chess game and boxing is something I came up with because boxing represents the intensity that I want to see with the ball and without the ball, and also mentally from my players.”
“The chess game is how we’re going to put out on the opposition; how we’re going to manipulate the opposition. So, for me, that’s why these two keywords are really important to our style of play.”
That image certainly helps supporters know what to expect from their coach, too.
Nancy joins the Columbus Crew having spent the past two seasons leading CF Montréal. In 2022, he guided the side to a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference, despite Montréal finishing 10th the season prior, and he finished second for the Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year award, just one-tenth of a percentage point behind Philadelphia Union’s Jim Curtain.
As for goals scored, he helped Montréal finish in the top five overall with 63, and he impressively guided the club to go unbeaten in 14 of its last 15 matches of the 2022 regular season. Crew fans will certainly remember that their club-record unbeaten streak was shattered by the coach now leading their team in 2023. (Nancy joked that the two meetings last year were “emotional,” as he won one and drew one, both after his team made heroic comebacks).
Crew President and General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko said Nancy is meticulous and detail oriented. He also called him passionate, innovate and versatile. Those personal characteristics will also carry into how the Crew will play moving forward.
"My job is to guide the players because they have to be able to find the solution by themselves.”
The point being the Crew players will have the freedom to make the best decisions that suit the given scenario – also characteristics of boxing and chess. The new coach made it clear there’s no formulaic approach to anything he’ll oversee with the club, just a culture and environment that fosters new ideas, critical thinking and feedback.
Bezbatchenko joked Nancy made that clear already in their roster decisions when the new coach rejected “two or three” players he was presented with because he didn’t think they’d fit the club’s philosophy and playing style. “He’s very comfortable saying no,” which the GM highlighted as a strength.
Nancy first joined CF Montréal in 2011 (then the Montreal Impact) as an academy head coach. He worked his way up from the Under-14 team until he eventually joined the first team in 2016 as an assistant. Eventually, he became the first team head coach in 2021.
Given his rise through their organization, he understands the value and importance of first team and academy alignment. It won’t be lost on him that Crew 2 won the MLS NEXT Pro Cup a few months ago, and the Black & Gold have a proven record of developing Homegrown Players who become first team regulars.
For a decade, Nancy saw what the Columbus Crew was on the outside. He saw the MLS Cup title in 2020, and he got goosebumps the first time he stepped into Lower.com Field because it simply felt like a beautiful place to play – and reminded him of stadiums in his native France.
Now, Lower.com Field is his new home and where he and the Crew will compete to return to the MLS postseason and compete for a third MLS Cup. There is already a strong roster in place, which Nancy knows from playing against Columbus previously. “(I want to) analyze what I have before I see what we need,” he said.
The Columbus Crew is a team proud of its past, confident of its present and excited about its future. Its new coach knows and respects that, and in a few months, will share his own interpretation of Black & Gold soccer. Based on his comments on Tuesday morning, it should resemble boxing and chess.
Wilfried Nancy Autographed Ball
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