Drogba’s future looms over Impact ahead of draft

Montreal Impact's Didier Drogba, right. (Graham Hughes/CP)

It’s been nearly a month now that the uncertainty of Didier Drogba’s future—whether he will retire and return to Chelsea as an assistant coach or remain in MLS for one last season—has been the subject of much discussion in Montreal.

It used to be the case that the Impact would struggle for media attention. But since the Ivorian’s arrival, and especially now that his standing at the club is uncertain, the Impact have been mentioned and discussed in the news like never before—which only adds more weight to the nearly exhausted argument of why Drogba needs to remain.

With the Drogba saga perhaps—perhaps!—reaching a conclusion in the coming days, you may be forgiven if you forgot, or simply didn’t know, that on Thursday the Impact will have the 14th overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft held in Baltimore.

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However, it’s very unlikely that the Impact themselves, given their current roster, the sparse lack of quality available in the college pool, and that they clearly have much bigger things to think about, consider the SuperDraft to be terribly important.

In his analysis of what each MLS team needs in the coming draft, Matthew Doyle of MLSSoccer.com, who is one of the more insightful soccer writers you’ll find, essentially only had this to say for the Impact: “Look, the one thing that this team really, really needs is for Didier Drogba to come back.”

Now, if I was a college player being drafted this year, especially in the latter rounds, Montreal might be one of the last cities where I’d want to land, if only because there are already—assuming that Drogba and Victor Cabrera return—27 players on the roster for the 2016 season.

With the club looking to add a right winger to replace the now departed Justin Mapp—and if the current batch of rumours and reports from Turkey are true, Galatasaray’s Lucas Ontivero could well be it—that would bring the Impact’s roster count to its limit of 28.

And even if Montreal does decide to move a player or two it still doesn’t leave much roster room. So while the Impact have the 14th pick in the first round, three picks in the second, and one in each of the third and fourth, it’s likely the Impact will sign no more than one of those players, or even, perhaps, none at all. They could technically sign them to their USL team, but the Impact have so far exclusively reserved that for academy players.

As limited as the college talent pool may be, it is, however, difficult to predict how the Impact’s selections will pan out.

Funny enough, Montreal has had more success with rounds two to four of the draft than the first. Calum Mallace, who was selected in the second round in 2012, has proven to be fairly useful. Last year, Cameron Porter was drafted in the third round—he impressed in the pre-season, unexpectedly earned himself a contract and then, before tearing his ACL, scored possibly the most important goal in the Impact’s history during the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.

So as much as the SuperDraft continues to lessen in importance with each passing year, as MLS clubs develop their own players, one still never knows what players may come out of it.

Whomever the Impact do select, they will at least have a chance to try out, which is sure to create quite a competitive atmosphere when the roster convenes for its pre-season training camp on Jan. 26, as there will also invariably be players from the academy and trialists from the outside vying for positions.

But right now, the more important and pressing matter, and the one on everyone’s mind, is will Drogba be among them.

Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer. Follow him on Twitter