MONTREAL—Before Saturday’s game with the Philadelphia Union, Frank Klopas joked that Didier Drogba would score ten goals in his Major League Soccer debut.
In the end the Montreal Impact coach would have been thrilled had the 37-year-old Ivorian striker managed to score just one, as the Impact suffered a second consecutive defeat, falling to the Union 1-0.
Given Drogba’s past success and reputation, one could have imagined him in his first game in MLS taking very little time to cause utter disarray for the opposing defense, but it was never going to be as easy as all that given that he hasn’t played a game since last May. That he only came on as a substitute in the 59th minute, and that his movement was often languid and ungainly, was really all to be expected.
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The 20,801 fans at Stade Saputo did at least get to see some glimpses of Drogba’s talent, like when he nearly scored the equalizing goal from a superb free kick late in the second half. But the reality is that it’s going to be some time still (probably a few weeks) before we see the former Chelsea striker at his best.
“It’s the first game. We all have to be realistic. He’s been training with us for two weeks. He’s been off for two months. This is like pre-season for him,” Klopas said after the loss.
“The legs are going to be heavy; it’s going to get more physically tiring. The games do help, to get the sharpness back. Obviously just his presence lifted the team, the stadium got really excited. I thought he was good. He had chances in the box.”
While Drogba will need to get minutes under his belt, and will need time to acclimate and get used to how things work in MLS (like speaking to local media after games—which he adamantly refused to do), his new teammates will also need to learn to play along with him.
Drogba’s characteristics are different from those of the crop of forwards the Impact have had over the last three seasons. With his size and skill, he’s a player Montrel can look for in the air or with his back to goal, and even in tight spaces when he’s being marked closely.
He’s not going to make very many runs in behind the defence as Marco Di Vaio did during his time in Montreal, but he’ll do things like beat a defender to a ball played in the air and flick it behind the defence for someone to run onto—which is what he did shortly after coming on, but none of his teammates anticipated the move.
“It’s going to take some time for us to obviously to find a way to use him best and for the players to develop an understanding,” Klopas said. “I thought we could have got him the ball a little bit quicker with the service but I think it’s going to come.”
As much as the Impact are now in a crucial stage of the season where playoff spots are on the line, and these two home losses add more pressure on obtaining results, it’s important that they be patient with Drogba and not rush him.
“The plan is to bring him in slowly. He needs rhythm. It’s important to understand that we’re two weeks in; he’s been out for two months,” Klopas said.
“He’s been with us two weeks so we have to be realistic and be smart. You’ve seen other situations with (New York City midfielder) Frank Lampard that they pushed and he had the calf (injury) and he’s been out.”
So just give it time.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer. Follow him on Twitter