The Montreal Impact achieved two very important objectives in 2013: they won the Canadian Championship, and they qualified for the MLS Playoffs.
Unfortunately, the manner of their 3-0 playoff defeat to the Houston Dynamo left a very sour taste in the mouth. That ultimately saw the Marco Schallibaum era come to end, and the Swiss coach was replaced with former Chicago Fire coach, Frank Klopas.
The move surprised some - the Impact were thought to be looking for a European to replace Schallibaum - but Montreal felt that Klopas has the right mix of MLS experience and understanding of the Impact's philosophy as a club to be the man to lead them over the next three years.
Given the Impact's desire to embed their playing philosophy, I don't expect them to deviate from their preferred 1-4-2-3-1 formation. If that is the approach they continue to employ, this is how I expect them to line up:
Goalkeeper - Troy Perkins
Perkins is a steady, reliable MLS goalkeeper. He probably didn't get the credit he deserved last year - which may be down to the fact that he was playing in Montreal, rather than in an American MLS city - but he did lead the league in saves with 109.
He will be hoping that he won't be as busy this season; a settled back four will have a big influence on whether or not that is the case. But even if the back four is breached, the Impact have a safe pair of gloves in goal in Perkins.
Right Fullback - Hassoun Camara
Camara's position in the team will be determined, I suspect, on the form and fitness of their central defenders. If Nelson Rivas can somehow manage to stay healthy for more than two weeks, he will partner Matteo Ferrari. If not, then Wandrille Lefevre will get the chance to impress beside Ferrari. If Lefevre's form dips, expect to see Camara or new signing Heath Pearce slide inside to play centre back.
This may very well be Camara's best position, but I expect to at least see him start the season at right fullback.
Camara is good in the air, likes to get forward, and has even shown a knack for scoring goals. If he can cut out the mental lapses that crept into his game at times last season, he will be an ever-present in Klopas' team.
Left Fullback - Heath Pearce
Aside from suffering a badly broken nose that forced him to miss four games, Jeb Brovsky was a fixture at left fullback last season. Right now, though, Brovsky is nursing his way back from a knee injury and will likely miss the start of the season.
Montreal have been looking at options at this position, and their first round draft pick, Eric Miller, can play left fullback. But it is likely that Frank Klopas will prefer to go with former New York Red Bull, Heath Pearce, who has signed for the club after impressing in pre-season.
Pearce is versatile, and can play both left fullback and central defender. That could prove useful for the Impact, who have injury and form concerns at both of these positions.
Central Defender - Matteo Ferrari
It is essential for Matteo Ferrari to remain healthy this season. With doubts over the fitness of Nelson Rivas, and question marks over whether or not Wandrille Lefevre can perform week in, week out, Ferrari is the rock upon which Frank Klopas' back four needs to be built.
Ferrari is arguably the best central defender in MLS - his pedigree is unmatched. He reads the game supremely well, and at times seems to be strolling through the game. He needs to ensure that he remains fully focused though, as his experience will be vital for the Impact in 2014.
Central Defender - Nelson Rivas*
The asterisk is there for one reason and one reason only - Nelson Rivas is never healthy.
Rivas played only one game last season - the 3-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Playoffs - and managed to get himself sent off in the process. Hardly a ringing endorsement, but anyone who has tracked the career of the Colombian over the years will know that Rivas is more than capable of being a star defender in MLS.
He is big, strong, fearless and comfortable with a ball at his feet. If he can miraculously get himself healthy, he will play alongside Ferrari. If not, expect Wandrille Lefevre to be given an opportunity to hold onto the position, as Adrian Lopez – signed last season from Wigan Athletic – is still not fully fit after recovering from ACL surgery.
Defensive Midfield - Patrice Bernier
Recently installed as the Impact's captain, Bernier has been a reliable performer for Montreal - despite having to overcome some obstacles in 2012.
Dropped from the starting lineup by then head coach, Jesse Marsch, Bernier took the high road. He didn't complain, he didn't voice his disapproval in the media; he worked harder, got back in the team, and in the end, was voted team MVP.
That is the kind of leadership that made selecting the Montreal native as the club's next skipper a no-brainer. Expect Bernier to anchor the midfield yet again this season.
Defensive Midfield - Hernan Bernardello
It was difficult to gauge the ability of Bernardello at times last season; it is always a challenge for players who join a club part-way through their season to really show their best form. But I saw enough from Bernardello to think that he is going to be a very good player for Montreal in the years to come.
His touch on the ball is exquisite; his vision and passing range is superb. His effectiveness will increase as he becomes more familiar with his teammates and their tendencies - something that a full pre-season should do wonders for.
Barring injury, expect to see B&B - Bernier and Bernardello - patrolling the midfield for Montreal this season.
Right Midfield - Justin Mapp
With two goals and eight assists, Justin Mapp had a good season for Montreal last year. But I think that Frank Klopas should expect more from the talented left-footer.
When he is on form, Mapp can dominate games. He likes to play on his off-wing, so that he can drift inside on his left foot and strike for goal or slide passes through gaps between defenders. If he can pin his fullback high, he will create space for Camara to drive into, or for Bernier and Bernardello to slide across.
The one area that I'd like to see improvement in is consistency. If Mapp can bring his best game week in, week out, he will be a major asset for the Impact.
Left Midfield - Sanna Nyassi
This is a problem position for Montreal - because no one has really claimed it as their own.
Cue the arrival of Uruguayan, Santiago Gonzalez.
Nominally a forward, if Montreal goes with a 1-4-2-3-1- formation, it will be Marco Di Vaio playing up front on his own. So if Klopas wants to get his most talented players on the pitch at the same time, he'll need to find room for Gonzalez on the wing, or as an attacking midfielder.
But Gonzalez has played sparingly in preseason, as both a winger and as an attacking midfielder. It will take him time to acclimatize to his new team and to MLS, so until he is deemed to be ready, expect Sanna Nyassi to start over Blake Smith and Andres Romero.
Nyassi can be very effective, but needs to be far more consistent in 2014 if he is to stay in the team.
Attacking Midfield - Felipe Martins
Felipe Martins had an outstanding debut season in MLS in 2012. His four goals and 10 assists underlined his role as a creative force in the Impact midfield.
In 2013, he put up decent numbers again - 5 goals and 8 assists - but didn't seem to be as influential in Marco Schallibaum's team. He wasn't an ever-present in midfield, and often had to make do with a place on the bench.
This season, if the Impact are going to succeed, they need Felipe to be on the ball, facing goal as often as possible. He has good feet, an eye for a pass, and isn't afraid to shoot when in the attacking third. If the Impact are going to get goals from midfield, they will need to come from Felipe, in particular.
Forward - Marco Di Vaio
Aside from the first three games of the season (when Di Vaio will be suspended), expect to see the Italian legend leading the line for Montreal.
At the age of 37, Di Viao's best years are behind him. But give him the ball anywhere close to goal, and he will once again show that he is the most clinical finisher in MLS.
His 20 goals last season were the reason the Impact made their first-ever playoff appearance. He will need to come close to matching that in 2014 if Montreal is to make a second appearance in post-season play.
The reason for that is that the Impact have very little else up front.
Andrew Wenger - the number one draft pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft - has not shown the instinct and tactical understanding to be an effective forward in MLS. Work rate and fitness are of little use if they are not paired with tactical nous and finishing ability. Wenger's two goals (from 24 appearances, eight as a starter) in 2013 will need to be increased considerably if he is to have a career in the game as a striker.
Santiago Gonzalez will likely see time up front as well this season, and it will be hoped that he proves to be more prolific in front of goal that his American counterpart.
For head coach Frank Klopas, the objectives will be the same as they were for Schallibaum: win the Canadian championship and qualify for the playoffs. As we've seen time and time again, the regular season goes out the window when the playoffs get under way, so that is the first step to winning MLS Cup.
The key for the Impact this season is this: their experienced players (Camara, Bernier, Bernardello, Di Vaio) must stay healthy and must play well. If they don't, the Impact does not have the depth in their squad to cope.