Even without Marco Di Vaio, no one expected that Montreal would begin the new year with three straight losses.
The Impact's all-star striker served a three game, carryover suspension from 2013 and will make his season debut against Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon.
Former manager Marco Schallibaum lead Montreal to a strong first half last year, before a slow decline ended with a wildcard playoff berth and lopsided first round loss to Houston Dynamo.
Enter Frank Klopas, the former Chicago Fire manager.
He's kept the squad mostly intact, which some see as a positive and others see as a negative. The core of the 2013 playoff squad remains despite the retirement of Alessandro Nesta and departure of Davy Arnaud to D.C. United. Montreal was among the least active teams this Winter and the grumbling of fans was heard around the league.
Figure 1: A look at Montreal's projected lineup and formation this Saturday at PPL Park (4 p.m.)
They've started with a tough draw, falling on the road at Dallas and Houston before last week's 2-0 loss in the home opener. That game had to be played at Olympic Stadium because of rough winter conditions throughout Quebec.
Still, the Impact have performed well against the Union since joining MLS in 2012. They are 3-1-1 against Philadelphia and earned a point from a scoreless draw at PPL Park last season. Di Vaio scored four goals in three games against the Union in 2013 and the key to this game will be limiting his movement and his looks on goal.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Di Vaio is that none of his 20 goals last season came from the penalty spot. I'd make the argument that he deserved the 'Golden Boot' over Camilo and Mike Magee, who scored five and three penalty kicks, respectively. All of Di Vaio's goals came from the run of play and he did not benefit from spot kicks to boost his numbers.
He'll usually play as a lone striker at the top of a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1 type of formation. Those are the two shapes that Montreal found the most success with last season.
This season, Klopas has stuck with the 4-2-3-1, simply inserting Andrew Wenger into the vacant striker spot. The question is whether or not the manager swaps Di Vaio in for Wenger, and keeps the 4-2-3-1, or if he tries a strike partnership between the two and opts for a more traditional 4-4-2.
The cast of supporting characters is similar to last year. You've got the Brazilian Felipe playing in the hole behind Di Viao and/or Wenger. Former Union winger Justin Mapp is playing some of the best soccer of his career on the flanks. Blake Smith and newcomer Santiago Gonzalez are other options on the midfield line behind the striker. Sanna Nyassi is not available with a knee injury.
You also have the return of midfielder Andres Romero this week. He was up and down for Montreal in 2013 but played well against the Union at Stade Saputo in May.
With a five man midfield, you'll probably see Patrice Bernier and Hernan Bernardello sitting in front of the defense. Bernier is a 2013 all-star and Bernardello has been a consistent starter since his Summer signing. Collen Warner will also play in this spot on the field, but Klopas found a way to get all three players on the field last week.
At center back, you're looking at a partnership of Matteo Ferrari and Hassoun Camara. With Nesta's departure, we were expecting Nelson Rivas to partner Ferrari, but he's dealing with (more) injury problems and has not featured this year. Klopas has moved Camara from his right back spot to fill the void.
The fullback spots have been occupied by Jeb Brovsky on the left and rookie Eric Miller on the right. The Impact also added veteran Heath Pearce in the offseason and he could be a starting option when deemed one-hundred percent healthy.
Possible Starting XI: Perkins (GK), Miller, Camara, Ferrari, Brovsky, Bernardello, Bernier, Mapp, Felipe, Romero, Di Vaio (4-2-3-1)
What do you think of this Montreal squad? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com