“If he can play, he can help.” That is what Montreal coach Mauro Biello told ESPN regarding Didier Drogba’s status for Sunday’s Eastern Conference semi final second leg to be played at Red Bull Arena.
Apparently, Drogba has agreed to come off of the bench for Biello after sitting out the Impact’s play-in match one and half weeks ago at DC United after the coach informed him that Matteo Mancuso would be starting in his stead.
Mancuso ratified his coach’s decision with two goals and an assist in Montreal’s 4-2 win over DC and with Drogba sitting out last Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinal match against the New York Red Bulls with back trouble, Mancuso furthered both Biello’s case and his own, scoring the game’s only goal.
Montreal’s results so far this postseason confirm the rationale behind Biello’s thinking, even with a pretty good return rate of 10 goals from 22 games in 2016, Montreal has simply been better this year when Drogba has not started or has not played at all.
So, what about the opposition? Is New York worried about a possible Drogba return? When I visited the Red Bulls training facility in Whippany, New Jersey on Friday morning the answer seemed to be, a respectful, not really.
I asked New York coach Jesse Marsch if he expected to see Drogba on the field on Sunday. “Drogba’s been in training,” Marsch said. “I spoke to him when I was in DC. He said his back had been bothering him for a while. How much he’ll be available? how much he’ll play? He hasn’t trained that much in the past month. So, you know there’s a lot of variables there but we’ll be prepared if he starts or he comes in off the bench, we’ll be prepared. We’ve played against him enough and we know him enough.”
Did the Drogba question affect the Red Bulls preparation this week? “Well,” Marsch considered, “we’ve talked about what the game would be like if he’s in, which is different than Mancuso. So, we’ll be ready for that.”
Few Red Bulls players figure to be more affected by Drogba’s presence, or absence than center back Aurelien Collin but the 2013 MLS Cup winner (with Sporting Kansas City) is nonplussed.
“Of course, it’s a different striker” Collin told a small group of reporters at Friday’s training session “but at the end of the day, as I say, we focus on us and what we have to achieve on this beautiful day because it’s going to be an amazing party, amazing game.”
Collin added, “we have to enjoy and make sure that we win that day and to move to the next level. Drogba is a very good player, we know his characteristics, we defend against him twice this year, so we’ll be ready.”
MLS Conference Semifinals, Sunday, November 6. Home team’s first- all times ET.
2pm. Colorado Rapids vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
The Galaxy hold a slim 1-0 margin over Colorado, a lead that could have been more. Bruce Arena continued to sit his captain Robbie Keane for Alan Gordon, a controversial move that has worked.
Steven Gerrard has also been reduced to a subs role but it is hard to complain when you win, and L.A. should win and advance on Sunday. Colorado’s offensive struggles are well known and if Jermaine Jones is again the Rapids most dangerous offensive player, as he was in leg one, then Colorado will be in trouble. Galaxy 1-0: 3-0 aggregate.
4pm. New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact
New York is the team best situated to overturn a game one deficit of the four home teams lining out on Sunday and I believe that the Red Bulls will do just that. The Bulls are a juggernaut at home and its pressing game may finally make the Impact’s veteran midfield look its age. Red Bulls 2-0: 2-1 aggregate
6:30pm. NYCFC vs. Toronto FC
2-0 is too big of a hole for NYC to overcome against a TFC side that is starting to look like an MLS Cup contender. An away goal would make NYC’s task nearly impossible and given the home team’s year-long defensive struggles and the explosiveness of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore combined with the midfield mastery of Michael Bradley, Toronto will be too much for Patrick Vieira’s men to overcome. TFC 3-2: 5-2 aggregate.
9:00pm. FC Dallas vs. Seattle
Dallas return home to Frisco, Texas saddled with a 3-0 deficit and still minus playmaker Mauro Diaz. Seattle is a team that is finding its way under coach Brian Schmetzer, who recently had the interim tag removed, and with Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, and revitalized Nelson Valdez in fine form, Dallas’ task in too much. 1-1: 4-1 aggregate.