With the Montreal Impact finishing off their 2016 pre-season campaign last night against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the focus now turns to the MLS regular season. With only seven days to go until kick-off against the Vancouver Whitecaps here are seven thoughts surrounding the 2016 version of the Montreal Impact:
1. Full Season Under Mauro Biello:
The Impact have been through a lot of head coaches since joining MLS in 2012. Montreal has seen the likes of Jesse Marsch, Marco Schallibaum, and Frank Klopas all come and go. With the sacking of Frank Klopas in August 2015, former Impact player and assistant coach was given an opportunity to take the Impact to the next level. Biello had a very successful end to the 2015 season finishing with a 9-2-3 record and taking the Impact to the Eastern Conference semi-finals. The question looming over Biello is, can he keep the momentum going from 2015 and have success in 2016? Will Mauro be able to cope with issues that pop up during the course of an entire season such as: injuries, player slumps, refereeing decisions going against you, and transfers?
2. Road Record:
Since joining MLS the Impact have really struggled on the road. Last season (thanks to a few late season wins) Montreal recorded four victories on the road out of seventeen. In 2014 the road record was even more dire with the Impact not even recording one win on the road. With three of the first five matches in 2016 on the road it will be important for Montreal to figure out how to have more success away from Stade Saputo.
3. Team Discipline:
Marco Marco Marco. Marco Donadel (or Marco Jaunadel as Impact fans have come to know him) was sent off in last night's friendly against Tampa Bay after recording two more yellow cards. In 2015 Donadel led MLS collecting thirteen yellow and two red cards. However it was not just Donadel that had discipline issues. Laurent Ciman also collected eight yellow and three red cards. If the Impact are to have greater success in 2016 they will need to cut back on card accumulation and suspensions.
4. Midfield Depth:
There is currently a log-jam in the midfield with the Impact having a plethora of options including: Eric Alexander, Kyle Bekker, Patrice Bernier, Marco Donadel, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, Calum Mallace, Lucas Ontivero, Ignacio Piatti, Harry Shipp, and Johan Venegas. The Impact also have Dominic Oduro, Maxim Tissot and Andres Romero (when he returns) also as midfield options - oh yes and potentially Michael Salazar. Fighting for playing time in the midfield could be tough for those players not at the high end of the depth chart.
5. How do the Academy Players Fit In:
There is no doubt that the Montreal Impact Academy is a big part of Joey Saputo's overall project in Montreal, and something the club has invested heavily in. With the Impact beginning their fifth season in the MLS will the former Academy players begin to play a bigger role for the club in 2016? No doubt Biello will be more apt to reward younger players more minutes than his predecessor was, however how do they all fit into the mix in 2016?
6. Return to the CONCACAF Champions League:
The Champions League run to start 2015 was huge for MLS and the Montreal Impact. The tournament allowed the club global exposure and a unique experience to play clubs outside Canada and the United States in meaningful games. There is no doubt the club would like to return to the competition however with the current setup only one Canadian team can qualify, and it all starts with the Canadian Championship against Toronto FC in June.
7. Everything Drogba:
Will Drogba dominate in 2016? Will Drogba play on turf? How much will Drogba play? Will Drogba talk to the media? Will Drogba honour the full extent of his contract? and who will replace Drogba when he leaves Montreal? These are just a few of the questions that will be asked of the Impact each and every week during the season. Although the Impact have arguably put together their most skilled, deepest and most exciting ever lineup, everything begins and ends with Drogba. When the Ivorian is in the starting lineup it changes everything for the opposition and instills an new found level of confidence in the Montreal Impact team. How some of these questions play out surrounding Drogba will help define how the Montreal Impact will fare in 2016.
The 2016 season kicks off seven days from now as the Impact will take on the Vancouver Whitecaps. The game starts at 5:30pm EST and can be seen on TSN / RDS in Canada.