Impact's Didier Drogba back practising after 4-game absence
Star striker recovering from sore back, questionable for playoff match vs. Red Bulls
Didier Drogba wants to put controversy behind him and get back on the field with the Montreal Impact.
The star striker was at practice Tuesday, raising the possibility that the Impact will have a major attacking option in the lineup for the second leg of their MLS eastern Conference semifinal against the New York Red Bulls.
The 38-year-old, who has missed four games with what the team said was a sore back but some believed was a dispute with coach Mauro Biello, worked out with a conditioning coach in the morning and then joined the team on the field for an afternoon practice session.
"It's a bit better but not the best. Not what I want, but we're working on it," Drogba said. "We've been working for days to get back to fitness and today, for the first time, I managed to make two sessions. I'm a bit satisfied."
It remains to be seen if he can play on Sunday when the Impact take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of a two-game, aggregate goals semifinal at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. If he can play, he will likely start on the bench and perhaps come on as a late substitute.
While some suspected he wasn't happy in that role, Drogba said he would have no problem coming off the bench.
"Come on, I've done that in my career, even in Chelsea in Champions League games," the former Chelsea star said. "I started my career as a sub, so I don't know why it should be difficult for me to be on the bench.
"I think I showed it against San Jose (on Sept, 28), so I don't think it's difficult for people to understand that I can be on the bench without making it a big trauma. Anyway, I'm not the type of guy to justify what I'm doing or not."
Being a substitute seemed to be the issue when Drogba skipped out on a home game Oct. 10 against Toronto FC. Biello said after the match that Drogba did not accept being left out of the starting 11 and demanded to be taken out of the lineup altogether.
He was fined an undisclosed amount by the league for missing a game without permission but returned to the team after talks with Biello and team president Joey Saputo.
Drogba did not want to get into what was said between them.
"I don't think it's time to create more negativity," he said. "I think it's really time to enjoy what the team is doing right now and be behind them and say to the fans that we really need them to be behind us in New York.
"It's behind us. Let's focus on what's next. Let's try to be positive. If you want to carry on killing me, fine, kill me, but don't touch the team and don't touch the club because we have an objective. We're trying to do better than last year."
The Impact were eliminated in the conference semifinals by Columbus last season.
Biello is glad to have Drogba back.
"It's good news to have him available if he's fine," said the second year coach. "He's a guy that can score goals and he's a guy whose been in big moments in big games. To have him available could only help the team."
Much has been made of the fact that the Impact have a better record without Drogba in the lineup this season. Last season, the Ivorian striker made a phenomenal debut in MLS, scoring 11 goals in as many games as the team went 7-2-2 down the homestretch and reached the semifinals for the first time.
But a month ago, with the team struggling, Biello opted to use Drogba off the bench, favouring newcomer Matteo Mancosu up front. The team has since rediscovered its form and, including playoffs, has gone 4-1-1, with the only loss a throwaway game using mostly bench players at the end of the regular season. Mancosu has three goals in two post-season matches.
Drogba said he would have been disappointed if the team had not learned to win without him and was happy they showed they can. He said he will be with the team whether he can play in New York or not.
It may have been a sad end to the career of one of the top strikers in world soccer. His Montreal contract is up after this season. But then, Drogba is not talking retirement just yet.
"I still have juice in my legs. I still want to play." he said. "Anything can happen."