Montreal secures playoff berth against TFC but may lose Drogba
Giovinco returns to help Toronto earn draw
It was perhaps the Montreal Impact's best performance of the season, and they did it without star striker Didier Drobga.
For the third game in a row, coach Mauro Biello opted to start newcomer Matteo Mancosu over the Ivorian legend, as the Impact tied Toronto FC 2-2 on a wet Sunday to secure a playoff berth.
Drogba, who has 10 goals in 23 appearances this season, didn't even show up to the stadium.
"I spoke with him [Saturday] and he didn't accept the fact that he would come off the bench and, in the end, he didn't want to be in the 18 [who dress for a game]," said Biello. "He decided not to play."
As things stand, Biello isn't sure whether Drogba, who joined the club midway through last year, will dress again for the Impact.
"It's important that things are settled and, in the end, one way or another, that we move forward — that's the message," said Biello.
Even without Drobga, Sunday's game was fast-paced with big chances at both ends. Going into the dying minutes it looked as if Montreal would get the better of its Canadian MLS rival, until Tosaint Ricketts, who came off the bench, scored the equalizer in the 87th minute.
The Impact, nevertheless, got what they wanted — clinching a playoff spot for a second year in a row — while Toronto stayed in the hunt for one of the top two Eastern Conference spots that would give it home field advantage and a bye into the conference semifinals.
Jozy Altidore also scored for Toronto (13-9-11), which remained winless in five games (0-1-4). Ignacio Piatti scored twice for the Impact (11-10-12), who ran their unbeaten run to three games.
Sebastian Giovinco was in the Toronto starting 11 as he returned from an injury and was a menace to the Montreal defence the entire match.
"I thought [Giovinco] was very good," said TFC coach Greg Vanney. "Whenever we play Montreal, they get numbers around him and it forces him hit to play a little deeper and stay a bit wider.
"I thought it was a good debut. It was good to get him 90 minutes. He had some good looks on goal. All things considered — he's been out six or seven weeks — that's a good day. And to get 90 minutes with him and Jozy together was good."
Giovinco hit a crossbar on a free kick and forced Montreal goalie Evan Bush into two diving saves. He was also key on the tying goal when he lofted a cross inside the penalty area, where Altidore chested it down and Ricketts pounded in his first goal of the season.
One game to go
Montreal actually dropped one place in the standings, from fourth to fifth, one point behind D.C. United. They will have a chance to secure home field in the single-game knockout round of playoffs when they end the regular season next Sunday at New England, depending on how D.C. does against Orlando.
TFC ends its season next Sunday at Chicago hoping to move past New York City, which faces Columbus.
"We came in on the road and took two away goals — we'd be happy with that if it was the playoffs," said Vanney. "We wanted to win the game. That was our intention. Unfortunately we didn't make enough plays to win."
The teams traded chances in the first half but Montreal got the only goal when Piatti took a pass on the left flank from Marco Donadel, moved in and blasted it inside the far post in the 19th minute.
Just before Piatti scored, Armando Cooper dribbled past Victor Cabrera inside the Montreal area but saw his soft shot go off the right post.
Toronto tied it in the 52nd when Justin Morrow sent a perfect cross in on a run down the left side. Altidore was battling with two Montreal defenders and got a foot free to lift the ball past a fallen Bush for his 10th of the campaign.
"Both Laurent [Ciman] and I felt we could have saved it off the line," said Bush. "My hand and his foot kind of went into each other."
Referee Jair Marrufo pointed to the penalty spot when Mancuso went down after contact from behind by Morrow in the 55th and Piatti made no mistake for his second of the game and 17th of the season.
Team wants Drogba to stay
While Biello stands by his decision to drop Drogba, he hopes to patch things up with 38-year-old.
"I decided to give a different look to the team, to add a little bit of energy up front, the ability to transition quickly and put more pressure on their back end," the second-year coach said. "
"If you're selected or not, it's about being there for your team. I analysed everything. I made a decision to give our team the best chance to get points."
Drogba did, however, send a good luck message to his teammates, who in turn appear to want him to stay.
"Didier made a decision,"said captain Patrice Bernier. "It sucks a bit.
"You understand as a player that sometimes it's not easy but you have to move forward. We qualified for the playoffs and that's the most important thing. The team comes first."
"He [has] brought a lot to this team and I'm pretty sure he'll continue to do that for the rest of the season," said Bernier. "Yes, there are tough decisions to be made, but everybody has to think of the team."
"He's one of the best strikers of this generation, so to say we're a better team without him is not necessarily true," said goalkeeper Evan Bush. "It's for Mauro and Didier to discuss.
"For us, whether he starts or comes off the bench, he brings valuable assets to us."