As paradoxical as this might sound, it's almost as hard to duplicate success from season to season in the parity-driven MLS as it is to miss the playoffs. In other words, Columbus Crew SC might not return to MLS Cup this year and win it all, but it's not going to turn into near-perennial losers Toronto FC either.

"I got a really big team

And they need some really big rings."

- "Big Rings" by Drake & Future

As paradoxical as this might sound, it's almost as hard to duplicate success from season to season in the parity-driven MLS as it is to miss the playoffs. In other words, Columbus Crew SC might not return to MLS Cup this year and win it all, but it's not going to turn into near-perennial losers Toronto FC either.

In the previous 20 MLS seasons, only D.C., Houston, New England and L.A. have played in back-to-back Cup finals, and only DC and LA went on to win after placing as runners-up the previous year.

But who cares about history anyway? This is a new year, we've got a Massive team, and hope, as it does every time Crewsmas Eve approaches, springs eternal in the House That Lamar Built. Crew SC returns to the pitch at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 6, to face off against the Portland Timbers in an MLS Cup rematch.

Demons will need to be exorcised. But if Crew SC is to hoist the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy at the end of the year, the following storylines will likely play a bigger role than whether our Fighting Canaries pay back those Timber hipsters this weekend.

Hunger or hungover?

Of all the sports cliches I'm tempted to trot out right now, the "getting back up after getting knocked down" is the one I'm picking (without much shame, tbh). Will the disappointing MLS Cup result loom large over the season and drag the team down? Or will the club respond with righteous anger, unleashing its vengeance on the league with the fury of a Nordecke scorned?

The problem with being stacked

A franchise-record 14 Crew SC players have played for their country's senior national team, according to the Columbus Dispatch. That's pretty dope, except that six or seven of them might miss time with Crew SC this year because of the Olympics and World Cup qualifiers. How the team handles likely absences by Wil Trapp, Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram, Harrison Afful, Waylon Francis, Cedrick Mabwati and rookie Rodrigo Saravia will go a long way toward defining the season.

Waiting in the wings

Of the players expected to miss time this year, five line up on the outside of the team's 4-2-3-1 formation, either as left or right backs or wingers, which is probably why head honcho Gregg Berhalter brought in depth for the outside of his formation this past offseason. The acquisitions of left backs Corey Ashe and Amro Tarek and wingers Emil Larsen and Ola Kamara (though more of a forward, really) bring much-needed depth and versatility to both attack and defense. If they fit as seamlessly as Gaston Sauro, Afful and Mabwati did last year, it might not matter much.

More money more problems for Kei Kamara?

2015 Kamara was a relentless force of charisma and guile in front of the goal. About the only thing more entertaining than his 22 goals (good for Golden Boot runner-up) were his 22 goal celebrations. What will 2016 hold? Kamara's always professional, but will the new deal he reportedly just signed, which would tie him to the team through the 2018 season and is likely to pay him $1 million per season, lead to complacency (Kamara made roughly half that amount in 2015)? And if he (Guillermo forbid) picks up an injury, will new signees Conor Casey and (the other) Kamara be up to the task of replacing one of the league's best strikers?

Fixing the leaks

Using the word "porous" to describe last year's defense is simultaneously generous and harsh. Prior to signing Gaston Sauro and Harrison Afful midseason, the team's defense was among the league's worst. But even post-acquisition, Crew SC was still prone to untimely giveaways and mental errors - all the way to MLS Cup, ffs. Part of that's by design, in a sense. Berhalter wants his team to play a high-press, possession-based game that often leaves the defense exposed. Will adjustments be made this year?

Season opener

4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 6

At Portland Timbers

Providence Park, Portland

Showing on ESPN

Home opener

7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 12

Vs. Philadelphia Union

Mapfre Stadium

1 Black & Gold Blvd., North Side

Showing on CW Columbus / TWC SportsChannel

World Cup Qualifier

U.S. vs. Guatemala

7 p.m. Tuesday, March 29

Mapfre Stadium, North Side