Sirois reflects on Valour FC stint as CF Montréal camp begins: ‘I feel very ready for this’

After two years on loan in the Canadian Premier League, Jonathan Sirois enters this season’s CF Montréal preseason feeling this could at last be his year to break into the Major League Soccer scene.

Over a pair of seasons spent in Winnipeg at Valour FC, the now-21-year-old established himself as one of the top young goalkeepers in the country. In 43 games played for the CPL club, Sirois posted 14 clean sheets, and in 2021 he was named the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year.

Now, though, his time in the CPL has undoubtedly come to an end, with the LaSalle, Québec native now firmly focused on securing a first-team role in Montréal. The MLS club’s preseason camp kicked off recently under new head coach Hernán Losada, and with plenty of turnover this winter perhaps the time is ripe for Sirois to make an impression.

“I feel very ready for this,” Sirois told recently from Montréal. “I spent the past two years on loan playing games, although I had a little pass where I was on the bench maybe a bit more, and that made me grow as a player, made me a bit more strong mentally. Now I just feel that after these two years I can come into this club, show this team that I can have a bigger role, play some important minutes and be important for the team when they need me.”

Sirois first shipped out to Winnipeg in 2021 as a 19-year-old, looking to earn his first professional minutes after years in Montréal’s academy. He did that and then some, immediately dominating at the CPL level and winning a Golden Glove for it.

The next season, however, was more difficult. Sirois returned to CF Montréal’s training camp in early 2022 full of confidence, hoping perhaps to win a first-team job. With a pair of more established ‘keepers ahead of him — James Pantemis (a fellow former Valour loanee) and Sebastian Breza — Sirois wasn’t able to crack the roster, and it was with perhaps a hint of frustration that he returned to Valour in March to continue his development.

“The two years were very different from each other in the sense that, in the first year I kind of floated on a cloud for pretty much the whole year,” Sirois said. “Everything seemed to be going very good, very smoothly, so that for me was just very good and it gave me a lot of confidence. It’s something I brought with me last year and even into this year, because at the end of the day it’s something I can’t forget. I showed everyone in the league and to Montréal that I could be the best keeper when I’m at my best, so that gave me a lot of confidence I can bring with me throughout my whole career.”

Sirois’ second year in the CPL was not as rosy as his first, either. Though he started out as the undisputed number one ‘keeper at Valour, by midseason he was sharing the net with Rayane Yesli, who needed minutes of his own at the club — especially with Sirois unlikely to return for a third year.

In a strange way, though, that stretch in August and September when Sirois really had to fight for his job may ultimately serve him well in an MLS environment this year.

“Last year, it was very different,” he added. “A bit more challenging. I had a very good first part of the season, but the second part I struggled a bit more and I had to really dig deep and stay strong mentally. At the end of the day, I knew the team was going to need me maybe more at the end of the season; [coach Phil Dos Santos] was telling me that I was going to have to come in big when the team needed.

“That’s also something that I can use and bring into this year here at Montreal; it’s a situation that might happen where I might not play a lot of games, but when I do I need to be big and important for the team. So these past two seasons have been very rich in experience and lessons for me.”

Sirois hasn’t yet had an opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Losada to discuss how the Argentine manager sees the young ‘keeper fitting into his plans this year. Still, it seems the vibe in early training camp has been very positive. With Breza having left Montréal, Pantemis — a member of Canada’s World Cup squad — seems the likely starter between the sticks, but Sirois feels he has the talent to push for game time and fight for the number one job.

Four years younger than Pantemis, Sirois has played just five fewer professional games in his career — entirely down to the two seasons Sirois spent in the CPL, where he made his pro debut in 2021. It’s far from the realm of possibility that he outperforms Pantemis in training camp or early in the season, and with a new manager taking the reins, the starter’s job may not be as locked in as it would seem.

Now, with Sirois on the cusp of MLS, he’s grateful for the opportunity he found in Winnipeg. He — along with fellow Montréal-to-Valour loanee Sean Rea — likely wouldn’t have developed as well as he has over the past two years were it not for the chance to play senior football. So, if any other youngsters in the Montréal academy were to ask him about the prospect of a CPL loan, Sirois wouldn’t hesitate:

“When you’re a young player in Canada looking for good professional minutes, or even just your first professional minutes, it’s always a good option to look at the CPL. Not only because of the U-21 rules and all that, but it’s a great bridge to get more confident.”

There’s plenty of work left to be done, as Sirois looks to impress a new manager and carve out his role in the squad, but he appears poised to be the next CPL standout to make the MLS jump.

If so, he’ll be an outstanding example of how the league can push young Canadian players forward, establishing an invaluable part of the development pathway in this country.