Spring has (almost) sprung, which means it's time to get down to business for Canadian Premier League clubs. Pre-season officially begins this week, with eight CPL teams now fully focused ahead of the season's start on April 11. Unlike last season, clubs are running their camps completely independently, which means no seven-team party in the Dominican Republic this time around. Some sides will still be travelling this month to escape the cold for a little while, though. So, with a relatively clear picture of where things stand ahead of the new season, let's go from east to west with one major question for each club on Day 1 of pre-season. RELATED READING: Analyzing each CPL club’s roster as pre-season kicks off
HFX Wanderers FC: What will the defence look like?

Stephen Hart's side is more changed than most, with 12 new signings (plus two U SPORTS picks in Cory Bent and Jake Ruby). Their backline has been almost entirely overhauled, with 2019's starting fullbacks Zela Langwa and André Bona no longer with the club, and centre back Matthew Arnone now at York9 FC. Ruby included, the Wanderers have seven defenders signed for 2020, four of them new. Hart will surely experiment with a few combinations in pre-season, but really the only player we can be certain will start at the back in the team's season opener on April 13 at York9 is Peter Schaale (a frontrunner for the captain's armband, maybe?). Jems Geffrard could be the logical choice to partner with Schaale at centre back, although Brazilian newcomer Eriks Santos could slot in. Or, Hart could turn to a known quantity in returnee Chrisnovic N'Sa.
Atlético Ottawa: How does Mista want his team to play?

We have no roster to analyze for the CPL's newest club, so it'll be fascinating to watch how the squad is assembled over the next month or so. Once the names start trickling in, we'll finally get some sense of what kind of football we can expect from Atlético Ottawa. New head coach Mista, in his first gig at the helm of a pro team, is a wild card in terms of what his footballing philosophy might be. Defensive? High-octane attack? Possession-based? We won't really know until Ottawa plays a few games, but once we know some players we'll have a slightly clearer picture. Just as every other team started from (almost) scratch last year, so too is Ottawa in 2020.
York9 FC: Who wins the attacking jobs?

York9 had trouble scoring in 2019, so they've gone out and added a ton of attacking talent. From local boy Michael Petrasso to internationals Gabriel Vasconcelos, Nicholas Hamilton, and Adrián Ugarriza, Jimmy Brennan has plenty of choices. The club has moved on from Ryan Telfer and Rodrigo Gattas, who provided many of their goals last year. Now, they need to decide how best to deploy the new faces (along with the old ones). If it's three across the front, Petrasso will surely be there, and it's likely Kyle Porter gets first crack at a spot on the wing as well. Vasconcelos and Hamilton seem fairly versatile in their positioning, but Ugarriza is more of a target man. Brennan will surely be tinkering with formations during pre-season.
Forge FC: How do they cope without Tristan Borges?

The champions have had a quiet off-season, the only new faces in camp so far being U SPORTS draft picks Gabriel Balbinotti and Alex Zis. Aside from that, it's an almost-unchanged squad heading into 2020. Almost. Tristan Borges, reigning CPL Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner, was sold to Belgian side OH Leuven in January. That leaves a massive hole in Bobby Smyrniotis' lineup. RELATED READING: CPL pre-season roster tracker: How each team is shaping up It looks like Forge will be addressing the absence in-house, with someone such as David Choinière, Chris Nanco, or Kadell Thomas now likely to shoulder greater responsibility. Balbinotti, too, could be an option, having played pretty much everywhere across the front for UQTR in U SPORTS. Forge was more than just one player last year, of course. They were tactically sound and good defensively. Still, 13 goals is a lot to replace.
Valour FC: Where do the goals come from?

Valour's lineup will be vastly different in 2020, with essentially none of their main attacking contributors returning. Marco Bustos has gone to Pacific, Michael Petrasso to York9, and Tyler Attardo to Chile. Defensively, they're pretty set, with a number of experienced new faces: Arnold Bouka Moutou, Amir Soto, and Andrew Jean-Baptiste should help a lot at the back. The club has brought in some new faces up front, in Daryl Fordyce and Moses Dyer, plus U SPORTS draftee Charlie Waters. Still, none of them has played a game, let alone scored a goal, in the CPL (Fordyce scored a bunch for FC Edmonton in the NASL). Right now, it's hard to say who exactly Valour's main scoring threat will be. Coach Rob Gale will need someone to step up and seize the opportunity in pre-season.
FC Edmonton: Who can get the ball to Easton Ongaro?

The Eddies' attack in 2019 centered primarily around the six-foot-seven Ongaro, who was a force on set-pieces and with the ball played into his feet at short range. However, they'd probably like to get him a few more clear-cut opportunities. That means better build-up and wing play. FCE has young academy products Prince Amanda and David Doe to help there, plus highly-touted newcomers Hanson Boakai and Raúl Tito. Coach Jeff Paulus mentioned a few times in 2019 that he wanted his side to be more dangerous from out wide, and some collection of those four could be the solution. The midfield will need to be better at getting balls to the wingers and to Ongaro himself, too. New central midfielder Erik Zetterberg might be able to improve that part of the game for Edmonton.
Cavalry FC: Who can replace Julian Büscher?

Part of the driving force behind Cavalry's relentless play in 2019 (aside from Tommy Wheeldon Jr., of course) was Büscher pulling all the strings in midfield. He was probably the best central midfielder in the league last year, completely running the show with the ball at his feet. Now, he's moved back home to Germany, which leaves a solid hole in Cavalry's midfield. They have Nik Ledgerwood, of course, but he's of more use on the defensive side of the ball. Enter Elliot Simmons. Simmons was a standout in Halifax last year, despite limited minutes due to injury. He's only 22, but he showed an impressive ability to pick out line-breaking passes and chase down interceptions. If Cavalry doesn't miss a step in 2020, it might be thanks in part to Simmons.
Pacific FC: Are the kids still alright?

Pacific was by far the youngest side in the CPL last year, blowing every other club out of the water in minutes given to U-21 players. Terran Campbell, Noah Verhoeven, Kadin Chung, and the rest of their young core is returning, but they'll be complemented this season by some more experienced players in Jamar Dixon and Marco Bustos. What will be interesting to watch is whether Pa-Modou Kah's team will lead the league in minutes given to U-21s. The local youngsters are still there, but will all of them be regular starters? Kah has already assured fans of his commitment to youth at Pacific, but we'll have to see just how young they skew this time around. Pacific might have the tools to be a contender right now, which means playing the best possible lineup week in and week out. After all, winning does wonders for player development.

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