MONTREAL—There’s been so much discussion over the last few weeks about the Montreal Impact seeming to lack any sort of playing philosophy or identity.
It was this deficiency that ultimately ended the tenure of former coach Frank Klopas, who was fired earlier this week. It’s one thing to lose games, but if a team doesn’t show a sense of evolvement and direction in the way that it plays, and just looks lost and stagnate instead, then a coaching change is inevitable.
Mauro Biello was never going to be able to transform the way the Impact plays after only a week in charge, but in his first game on Saturday as interim coach, Montreal showed great fighting spirit in a 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the Chicago Fire.
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As far as what the playing philosophy of the team should be going forward, here’s one suggestion: give the ball to Didier Drogba!
The 37-year-old Ivorian striker was sensational on Saturday, scoring three goals in what was only his first start with his new team. And in a game where the Impact were, more often than not, second best, he converted every chance he was given.
“What can I say? It was an exceptional performance,” Biello told reporters in the post-match press conference. “He’s someone who’s really engaged. He’s won everywhere. He came here with a great desire to win and that’s what we saw tonight.”
Drogba’s inclusion in the lineup not only offers the Impact a lethal weapon up front, but will also change the way the team plays. Over the last three seasons, opposing sides could thwart the Impact’s attack by simply sitting deep in their end and take away space for Montreal’s quick, offensive players to run into. With Drogba, who’s one of the very best, if not the best, box strikers of the last 15 years, teams will be more reluctant to keep a low defensive block for very long.
Before Drogba’s arrival, the Impact were rarely ever a threat on crosses and set pieces, but now they’ve suddenly become one of the more dangerous attacking teams in MLS from those areas. The opening goal, where Drogba brilliantly controlled Nigel Reo-Coker’s cross and quickly turned between two defenders before smashing the ball into the net, was a perfect example of what he’s capable of.
“It’s a different dynamic now,” Reo-Coker said. “It’s a bit of old school football, a bit of old school Manchester United with the fullbacks pushing on, being positive with overlapping runs, finding 2 v 1s, and playing attacking football. And then knowing that we have the opportunity to play crosses in the box for a top class striker to finish.”
Not having played a full game since last May and having recently sustained a toe injury which kept him out of a few games, Drogba still isn’t fully match fit, and given just how good he was against Chicago, it’s scary to think what he will be able to do at 100 percent.
“The manager asked me how I was feeling and I was a bit tired at the end; I’m working hard to get back to fitness,” Drogba said. “It’s only my second real week of work after two months of nothing so it’s a bit difficult at the end, but I’m quite happy with my physical performance today.”
The 20,521 fans in attendance at Stade Saputo, good for a second a sellout on the season, will have certainly been pleased. There probably hasn’t been a better or more memorable game of soccer in this city.
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer. Follow him on Twitter