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Whitecaps excited to start season vs. injury-riddled Impact

The Major League Soccer season opener will double as a Canadian derby for the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps.

Two of Canada's three MLS teams (the other is defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC) will meet Sunday afternoon at B.C. Place in Vancouver.

The Whitecaps finished 15-12-7 last season, just one point behind Portland and Seattle in the Western Conference before losing to the Sounders in the conference semifinals. Montreal was 11-17-6 last year, missing the playoffs.

Coach Carl Robinson has tried to remake his Vancouver squad, bringing in veteran Kei Kamara and 23-year-old Venezuelan Anthony Blondell to replace the departed Fredy Montero up front.

"It's totally different (from last year), I'll tell you that," Robinson told The (Vancouver) Province newspaper. "The freshness within the group is what excites me. We've got some characters, some leaders both on and off the field."

Robinson also brought in defenders Efrain Juarez, a Mexican international, and Jose Aja.

. "We've been so close twice out of three years. Managers ... try and find solutions, and my solution after reviewing last year was I needed to change something within the group dynamic," Robinson said. "I did that, for inside the locker room, but I've also done it outside, out on the playing field.

"There will be a slight shift in the way we play, and having characteristics of different players to be able to do that is important, and we'll see if we can get over that hump. I'm sick of going out in the semifinals. I really am."

Preseason injuries have already made an impact on Montreal. The Impact will take just one healthy forward, Matteo Mancosu, and one central defender, VIctor Cabrera, to Vancouver.

One of the Impact's top offseason acquisitions, French defender Zakaria Diallo, reportedly suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during practice Tuesday and could miss most, if not all, of the season.

"It's difficult for us and for him," Montreal midfielder Ignacio Piatti told the Canadian Press. "His injury is for a long time, so now the coach (Remi Garde) has to decide who plays in the back.

"For us, it doesn't change things. We still need to play a good match."

Piatti, who has led the Impact with 17 goals in each of the past two seasons, hopes Montreal can win its season opener in Vancouver for the second time in the past three years. The Impact took the 2016 opener by a 3-2 margin as Piatti had two goals and an assist.

"We're ready to start the season," Piatti said. "We hope to get a result there and get off to a good start."

Updated March 2, 2018

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