There is no denying that Didier Drogba is a physical beast, but not even he is immune to rigors of the grueling MLS season, especially not at his age.
Drogba joined the Impact for preseason training last week in Florida, and is gearing up for his first full campaign in MLS. It is widely expected that the powerful striker will pick up where left off in 2015, when he arrived in the summer and took the league by storm, but he turns 38 early in March and maintaining a high level over an entire season is not the same or as easy as doing so for just a couple of months.
That is why the Impact are planning to take a methodical approach as to how much he plays during the course of the year. They want Drogba to lead their attack and terrorize opposing defenses once again, but are also looking to preserve him for the final few months of the campaign and playoffs by limiting his minutes and resting him when necessary.
“I think that’s part of the plan,” Impact head coach Mauro Biello told SBI. “We know it’s a long season in the MLS and it’s a grind with the travel and that’s one thing that’s hard for European players to get used to, that travel and that ability to (deal with things like) 10 hours to get home from Seattle. For us, it’s difficult, but for sure we need to manage him, manage his training load, manage those games where maybe he may need a rest so that he’s 100 percent down the stretch.”
The Impact might have to make due without Drogba at times in 2016, but just having the star forward back for a second season in Montreal is a welcome sight. The offseason was littered with questions about whether Drogba would retire to join Chelsea’s technical staff or return for the final year of his deal with the Impact. Drogba took some time to weigh his options, but ultimately chose the latter much to the delight of the MLS side and its fans.
“No doubt about it, he’s a big piece of the team, just like (Sebastian) Giovinco is, just like Kei Kamara is, just like Robbie Keane is,” said Biello. “He’s a piece of our puzzle and our offensive organization and we’re happy he’s back with us. Now, we can build and prepare when Didier’s in the lineup, so for us it’s a good thing for him to come back.”
Whether Drogba can replicate the type of dominant and headline-grabbing performances he enjoyed at the end of the 2015 season remains to be seen, but the Impact are confident that he will be able to build on his initial 11-goal campaign. He might not play every game this year due to his age, but the club is still counting on him to do big things.
“Obviously he’s going to work very hard to show what he can do and continue where he left off last year,” said Biello. “We want to put him in those conditions for him to have that type of success, and he’s a champion. He’s a guy that’s scored at the highest level, he’s a guy that also quickly adapted to the style of play, and he has that profile that fits the MLS. Along with his physicality, he has unbelievable technical skills and a great understanding of the game, so that allows him to be able to adapt to this league and he showed that when he came in and hopefully he reproduces that.
“Right now, he’s working hard to get himself back into game shape and hopefully we’ll see him in the next couple of weeks.”