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FC Montreal: 2016 USL Season Preview

The shirts are printed, the Olympic Stadium is as ready as can be, FC Montreal is days from its second season in USL.

FC Montreal players thanking the Ultras for their tifo and support.
FC Montreal players thanking the Ultras for their tifo and support.
Tristan D'Amours

Year Founded: 2015

Affiliation: Montreal Impact

2015 Record: 8-16-4 (10th in Eastern conference)

2015 Playoff: Did not participate

Key Additions:

Thomas Meilleur-Giguère

As you will soon notice, most of the additions for this team , throughout its existence, will come from the under-18s. FC Montreal is the top step of the academy after all.

Meilleur-Giguère was easily one of the standout players from the U18s that went to the USSDA final four twice in the last two years. He comes in at a centre-back position that is still pretty thin with Jems Geffard, Mele Temguia, and central midfielder Fabrice Mbvouvouma, who recently stepped in on the back line.

He will not start the season in Montreal, he was called up to the Canadian under 20 national team camp in England alongside goalkeeper James Pantemis and USL second year midfielder Marco Dominguez.

Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla

Tabla is a player most FC Montreal fans are going to want to keep an eye on. We're talking about a player that got named Canadian U17 player of the year in 2014....at the tender age of 15. The young man has already earned praise from many and his talent is going to raise a few eyebrows.

He will also take the trip across the pond with the U20 national team so he will be unavailable for Friday's game. But rest assured, seeing Tabla's technical skill fare up against the physicality of USL teams like the Rochester Rhinos, Richmond Kickers or Charleston Battery will definitely be interesting.

Key departures:

Johnny Grant

I was deeply saddened when I heard Marc Dos Santos recruited Grant for his new Swope Park Rangers squad. He was one of the biggest (height wise) and best prospects the Impact had on the back line.

Age might have been a disadvantage for the centre back from Pickering, Ontario. At 22, the Sigma FC product was four years older than the next best in line, Meilleur-Guiguère who is 18. However, the decision to let Grant go might bite them early on in the season with Meilleur-Guiguère off with the national team and Mele Temguia sitting out with a minor injury.

Victor N'Diaye

Without a true striker available to start the season last year, attacking midfielder/winger Victor N'Diaye was asked to step in at the striker position. He was among the players that were projected to push for an MLS spot now that he was given the advantage of playing pro soccer in USL in 2015.

However, production was not as expected and he too was going up in age. Eventually, the team did not include the 23 year-old from Quebec City in their 2016 roster.

What to expect from FC Montreal:

One thing you need to know going into this season is the following: If this season will look anything like last season, brace yourselves for a couple of changes game by game. With a team as midfield heavy, you will get to see a couple of new players starting as you go to different games.

The battle of the wingers will be an interesting one to watch. As this will be a big job interview for a possible MLS homegrown contract, second year players like Alessandro Riggi, Fabio Morelli, and Yacine Ait-Slimane among others will want to fight to keep their regular spots because younger players like Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla are pushing for a spot.

Up top, it will be interesting to see the first full USL season for both Charles Joly, which the team nicknames "Le Bomber," and Cameroonian international Jacques Haman. Philippe Eullaffroy has been used to set a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation but having both strikers available may allow him to switch to a 4-4-2 display with both target men starring at the same time.

Other interesting aspects to the FC Montreal landscape are the first-team loanees that play minutes with the team. Last year, the most recurring loanees were: Maxime Crépeau, Jeremy Gagnon-Laparé, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, and Romario Wiliams.

Some worked out, like Maxime Crépeau showing that he has the talent to wear the gloves in MLS one day. Some didn't, like Romario Williams who didn't really bring much offensively and did to the team chemistry the equivalent of pouring cold milk in a hot chocolate fondue (don't try that if you don't want to ruin your dessert).

Three Players to Watch:

Alessandro Riggi

My first player to watch won't be playing on Friday due to injury but as soon as he comes back, you will want to watch out for him. He is the cornerstone of this team, hands down. Riggi wants to dominate in USL, and let's face it, should and probably needs to dominate in the league in order to get what everybody wants for him: an MLS contract.

Riggi had the chance to make that bump this preseason but an injury forced him to sit out the training camp and he now has to prove himself once again in USL this season. Friendly advice: take the opportunity and go watch him in USL on the cheap before he makes the big club.

Marco Dominguez

A rock in the midfield, that's what Marco Dominguez is.

Invited to the U20 national team camp, spent some time in Bologna in the winter, the guy has already got some eyes on him and yours should be too. The man has a bright future in front of him and has the firmest handshake I've ever experienced. Keep up the hard work Marco, just like your handshakes.

Janouk Charbonneau / Zachary Sukunda

The fullback duo learned so much in the past year in USL. They learned to cope with the physicality of the league and are not afraid to step forward and help the attack. Watch for those guys to cross the ball in the box for either Charles Joly or Jacques Haman.

I know I'm cheating a bit by naming four players instead of three, but even though these guys play on the opposite sides of the pitch, they seem like they come in a pair. And to be honest, they're the closest thing Montreal fans have to the Splash Brothers.

The 2016 season will be a success if:

They manage to start picking up steam earlier than past the mid-season point. The players and coaching staff will tell you that following in LA Galaxy 2's steps and making the playoffs is the goal, but having a more consistent team overall will make the season a success.

The team got more experience with what happened last season, but in terms of average age, the team got younger. Making the playoffs is not impossible, but they will definitely need to gel and start playing to the level they played in the second half of last season earlier than last year.

Relevant Links

Tristan D'Amours : Sports Online editor @Linknewspaper / Staff writer: @USLRdio, @MtRoyalSoccer / Podcaster: #PBHT & #TTK.

FC Montreal : TwitterFacebook