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Match preview: Whitecaps open season with Impact-ful start to campaign

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MLS: Canadian Championship-Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason matches are in the bag, the kits have been unveiled and the new players have been signed (mostly). It’s official: on Sunday the Vancouver Whitecaps (and MLS) are back in action.

The Caps kick off their campaign at BC Place Sunday afternoon against Montreal Impact, a familiar foe as Vancouver welcomed them in the 2016 season opener. A record crowd is expected, with the club saying they expect the full lower bowl to be full, effectively matching the club’s inaugural match against Toronto FC in 2011.

Even more than Vancouver, Montreal is a team in flux this season. New manager Remi Garde brings a Ligue 1 pedigree to French Canada but lacks the talent of Olymponais Lyon, where he served as an assistant coach. Out is dynamic midfielder Blerim Dzemaili, in is young Bologna product Saphir Taider. Veteran and former MLS defender of the year Laurent Ciman was dealt to LAFC in the offseason but Garde’s rebuilding project was complicated last week by the news that Ciman’s replacement, Zakaria Diallo, is out for 5-6 months with a ruptured Achilles.

The Impact retain winger Ignacio Piatti, who Caps fans will remember well from his brace in the 2016 clash, and striker Matteo Mancosu. They will be joined in the attack by Chilean midfielder Jeisson Vargas and winger Raheem Edwards, both acquired this offseason. The fact that Vancouver opens with one of the few teams in the league with more roster turnover than they do bodes well for their chances.

The Caps are not without injury issues of their own, however. Doneil Henry has been ruled out for upwards of a month with a hamstring injury, meaning that the Caps will be even thinner at CB than they otherwise would have been, given the likely departure of Tim Parker. Defensive midfielder Aly Ghazal will also miss the first several weeks, meaning Vancouver will be without his hulking, physical brand of play in the middle--something Vargas and Tadir will likely look to exploit.

If forced to make a prediction, I would tend to say Vancouver has the upper hand here, as Montreal will be breaking in much of their starting XI, much less a new manager. I think the Impact can easily find their footing later in the season and make a playoff run but, for now, I think the Caps need to punish their inexperience playing together, especially because it comes at home. Last year’s season opener was a drab, 0-0 draw with Philadelphia Union and I would expect more goals (and hopefully a win) this time around.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs Impact de Montreal

March 4, 2018

BC Place Stadium

Kickoff: 6 pm EST, 3 pm PST

TV: TSN1, TSN3

Referee: Drew Fischer

Assistant Referees: Frank Anderson, Kyle Atkins

Fourth Official: Nima Saghafi

VAR: Jon Freemon