Montreal seek to become Eastern Conference power

Montreal Impact teammates huddle up before a preseason game against Toronto FC.

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Whether or not 2016 proves to be a prosperous season for the Montreal Impact largely hinges on the form of Didier Drogba. Seldom does a MLS team’s narrative solely revolve around a single player, but the Ivorian almost singlehandedly catapulted the team’s late surge up to third place in a tight finish in last year’s Eastern Conference playoff race. As such, the 37-year-old remains a key cog in Mauro Biello’s side as it looks to make a run for its second consecutive postseason appearance. Here are three things to watch:

1. Can Drogba stay fit?

MLS 2016 Season Previews

Hampered with injuries, reportedly mulling a desire to consider retirement and even join the managerial ranks at Chelsea, Drogba made countless headlines this offseason. Questions over his fitness have already been brought to the forefront after it was announced that he would miss the team’s first four of five matches due to turf. Having scored 11 crucial goals in the group’s run-in last season, Drogba posed a unique threat in the attack, bearing down on defenders and ruthlessly punishing teams. Will he return with the same initiative, and in the same state of mind? Only time will tell.

2. Shrewd offseason compensates for big losses

Mar 21, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; Montreal Impact forward Dominic Oduro (7) during the first half against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the likes of Ignacio Piatti, MLS Defender of the Year Laurent Ciman and Marco Donadel returning at the base of the Impact’s midfield trio, concerns were raised over the lack of depth on the wings after both Justin Mapp and Dilly Duka departed. In turn, the Impact fired back with the signing of Lucas Ontivero to wrangle with Johan Vinegas and Dominic Oduro, restoring an aura of stability to the side.

3. Harry Shipp trades Chicago red for Montreal blue

Harrison Shipp made the move from Chicago to Montreal this offseason

Much of the surrounding focus will duly center around Drogba or Piatti, but a special rearrangement has altered the midfield dynamic in Montreal. As the poster boy for the Chicago Fire for two seasons, Homegrown star Harry Shipp’s childhood roots were snapped in favor of a late switch that saw the Notre Dame product trade the red and white for blue and black. The 24-year-old playmaker was deemed surplus to requirements in the Windy City, but the Fire’s loss is the Impact’s gain. Quick-witted and endowed with composure on the ball, Shipp’s ability to circulate possession and deliver the final, penetrating pass connecting the midfield to the attacking corps will prove a welcome asset to the Impact.