It’s Wilfried Nancy’s Time

Set to play in his second final in as many seasons with the Columbus Crew, Wilfried Nancy has become the standard amongst MLS managers. But how he get here? 

CONCACAF didn’t get its dream final result in the newly rebranded Champions Cup, as Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami were eliminated in the quarterfinals, but it did get a coveted MLS vs. Liga MX matchup. (Who needs the Leagues Cup?)

It’ll be a heavyweight bout between reigning MLS champions Columbus Crew and five-time Champions Cup winners Pachuca.

And while there are many storylines that we could explore heading into the June 1 final, perhaps the most intriguing is that of Crew head coach Wilfried Nancy. The French manager has seen his stock skyrocket in the past few seasons, especially after the Crew’s MLS Cup title and dominant run in the 2024 Champions Cup.

Rumors have circled around the coach making a move to Europe, but before he does, let’s take a look at his meteoric rise. Buckle up and get ready to learn Nancyball, buddy.


wilfried nancy

Unlike many of his peers, Nancy doesn’t have a prestigious playing career that preceded his coaching one. He bounced around a few clubs in the lower tiers of French football, before moving to Canada, where he’d play collegiately at the Université du Québec à Montréal. While at UQAM, he started coaching at a well-known private school, and entrenched himself into the Montreal football scene in the mid-2000s.

This laid the groundwork for when the Montreal Impact, now CF Montreal, created their academy, in which Nancy was hired to coach at various levels. He’d eventually make his way to the first team, where he’d assist the likes of Rémi Garde and Thierry Henry.

When Henry unexpectedly resigned as Montreal’s head coach, Nancy was promoted to manager, and he took the opportunity with an aggression and passion that is mirrored in his style of play. After just seven games, the club exercised their contract option to extend Nancy for a further season, and the team would go on to win the 2021 Canadian Championship.

Nancy’s honeymoon period as manager wore off quickly after he and team owner Joey Saputo reportedly got into a verbal altercation, which was enough to crack the foundation they had built. Nancy considered leaving the club immediately but, after discussions with the squad, decided to stay until the end of the season. In 2022, Montreal set team records for wins and total points, but eventually bowed out of the playoffs in the Conference semifinals.

wilfried nancy

In the offseason, Nancy would find a new home with the Columbus Crew, and he’d make an immediate impact with the club. In his first season as manager, Nancy guided the Crew to a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference and their third MLS Cup. The victory made Nancy the first Black coach in MLS history to raise the trophy.

Now, with a chance to win his third trophy in four years, and in his second final in as many seasons with the Crew, you have to wonder — how has Nancy been able to settle in so quickly in Columbus?

First, he’s with a much more stable club than he was in Montreal, who have a history of going through coaches in rapid succession. Columbus is also more willing to invest vast sums of money on and off the field at every level of the club. But most importantly however, the Crew are devoted to building a legitimate pathway between the academy and the pros.

The club wants to build a system that prepares its players to the highest extent and follows the same footballing philosophy from day one, regardless of age. Very few managers in the world receive this level of control, let alone at the MLS level.

Wilfried Nancy’s Philosophy

In one of Nancy’s first interviews as the Columbus Crew manager, he described his playing philosophy as a mix between a boxing and chess match.

The boxing piece accounts for the intensity and mindset of his players, and the chess game accounts for how tactical and strategic each moment of the match should feel. Much like chess, which is initially learned in a formulaic manner, Nancy takes the game to the next level by foregoing the formulas and instead instilling strong understandings of movements and proactive thinking in his players.

Nothing is choreographed (except maybe set pieces), and instead, his players are well-drilled to find the rhythm of the game, making their own decisions, and using time and space to win battles throughout the pitch.

This was evident in the Crew’s systematic disassembly of tournament favorites Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals, in which they defeated their opponents by an aggregate 5-2 score, which included a dominant 3-1 away victory.

Nancy’s style is patient yet opportunistic. If an opening arises, his team has no fear of sending large numbers forward and applying the pressure to the weak points of its opponents. Lethal on counter attacks, Nancy’s teams are even more impressive while in possession.

Nancy believes that at times, many teams move the ball forward too quickly, and as a result, don’t break the opposing press effectively. So, teaching his players how to hold on to the ball and release it right before the press actually arrives allows his team to break down the opposition in a more effective and controlled way.

In simpler terms, they wait for the other team to get impatient, and when the opponents hastily press, they attack the newly opened spaces that didn’t exist moments prior. Players like Darlington Nagbe and Aidan Morris do this perfectly as they adeptly slow the tempo down, forcing the other team to push to regain the ball, and then use their distribution skills to start the move forward against a now disorganized opposition.

I could go on for days about Nancy’s playing style (and others have done so before me), but if you leave here with one takeaway, have it be that he has created a team that plays arguably the most beautiful football in North America.

The Final

Now, with the CCC final set, the anticipation starts to build. From a fan perspective, it is always great to see matchups you wouldn’t typically see in a league calendar. Having MLS and Liga MX continue to match up in high-stakes matches will never get old, as this rivalry continues to intensify.

It also is a potential defining moment for the Columbus Crew in particular. Pachuca, of course, are established and will be historic long after this final, but the Crew, on the other hand, are working to build on their success and become the dominant organization in American soccer. If the Crew win and can hold onto their key pieces (Nancy included in that), they could go on to become a dynasty that defines an era in MLS, and while it is a bit hyperbolic because all of their achievements so far have been spectacular, it all hangs on this one match. Lots of teams have won MLS Cups, very few MLS teams have won the Champions Cup.

Leave a Reply