Montreal travels to chilly Washington to open the campaign against D.C. United on Saturday afternoon looking to make a statement that it won't be the league's doormat again. The Impact finished last overall in MLS with a 6-18-10 record last year and didn't win a game on the road.
Montreal goes into the opener on a high after rookie Cameron Porter's stunning goal in the last seconds of the quarter-final that gave them the victory over Mexican club Pachuca on Tuesday night.
"We've got to get off the high we're on, but bring the same energy, emotion and intensity to the game," coach Frank Klopas said this week. "We have to start working on our consistency, which wasn't there last year.
"It's important to get off to a good start."
Having played two competitive matches before the regular season would be an advantage against any other team than United, which had a quarter-final of its own. The D.C. squad lost 6-4 on aggregate despite winning the second leg 2-1 at home Wednesday against Alajuelense of Costa Rica.
The Impact faces Alajuelense in the semifinals starting March 18 in Montreal.
"It was nice to get two extremely competitive games under our belt before the season starts," United forward Chris Rolfe told his team's website. "If we approach that with the right attitude it will be beneficial to us in the regular season."
United will be without star forward Fabian Espindola, recently made the team's second designated player. He received a six-game suspension for shoving an official after an Eastern Conference semifinal loss to the New York Red Bulls in November.
Klopas doesn't announce lineup changes ahead of time, but said there will be some. A likely move would see veteran Hassoun Camara go in at right back for newcomer Victor Cabrera, who played both CONCACAF games.
It's unclear who will play forward. New pickup Dominic Oduro started both Pachuca games and was substituted late; first for Porter, then for returning striker Jack McInerney. The search for a replacement for retired star Marco Di Vaio is far from over.
And Klopas may opt to use Calum Mallace, whose spectacular pass set up Porter's goal, or captain Patrice Bernier in one of the central midfield roles filled in the quarter-final by Nigel Reo-Coker and Marco Donadel.
With Andres Romero not yet back from injury, the attacking midfielders are likely to remain Ignacio Piatti, Justin Mapp and Dilly Duka although ex-Red Bull Eric Alexander has yet to see action.
The Impact views the key improvement from last season being its depth at all positions. A second game in a week could test that.
The MLS website has the Impact 16th in pre-season rankings, but the club sees itself much more improved than that. That's especially considering the new central defence pairing of Laurent Ciman and Bakary Soumare mandated to eliminate some of the cheap goals conceded last season.
"Really, the sky's the limit with this group of guys if we can stay unified," goalkeeper Evan Bush said. "It's a long season, but we'll continue to stay tight as a group.
"I think we have a very high ceiling."
Montreal can use D.C. as a model. In 2013, United finished last at 3-24-7, but made changes and finished first last season at 17-9-8.
A brisk 5C temperature is forecast for the mid-afternoon match. On Friday, United tweeted a picture of crews removing mounds of snow from the RFK Stadium pitch.