It was a game that will be remembered in Impact history. Not due to the final score (the Impact ended up losing 1-0) or the quality of play rather because it was the debut game for the biggest name (so far) to play for the team, Didier Drogba. Since Drogba’s signing by the team about a month ago Impact fans have been chomping at the bit for the striker to put on the royal blue kit of the Impact. He has been hailed as the saviour for a squad that has had trouble scoring since the departure of another designated player, Marco Di Vaio. Fans would have to wait a while for that moment as Drogba was not named to the starting eleven by coach Frank Klopas.
Coming into the game Montreal had the upper hand against Philadelphia at home winning their last 5 contests at home. They had also outscored the Union 10-4 over that period. The two teams had played in Philadelphia in late June to a 2-2 score. Montreal is just ahead of Philadelphia in the East with an 8-9-4 record to the Union’s 6-13-6. The Impact want to keep their 4 point lead on the final playoff spot over the Union.
As has happened all too frequently lately Montreal dominated control of the ball in the 1st half, but could not create any high quality scoring chances. The two best were wasted. One was in the 5th minute by starting striker Dominic Oduro, who used his pace to get past the Union defense and decided to take an off balance weak shot that went wide of the far post instead of laying it off to his right to a completely alone Johan Venegas. Venegas had another good game for the Impact and seems to be getting more comfortable with his new teammates. That will be needed as it is undetermined how long offensive midfielder Ignacio Piatti will be out due to injury. Venegas himself had a good scoring chance in the 28th minute. Showing his ability with his head Venegas got on the end of a Donny Toia cross from the right side. It was a strong header, but missed the far side.
Finally in the 59th minute the crowd’s wish was granted when the Ivory Coast international and former Chelsea striker took Dilly Duka’s (the same man who game up his number 11 for Drogba) place on the pitch. After pointing his two index fingers a couple of times up to the heavens the imposing man took the lone striker position on the field to a standing ovation with Oduro shifting back to the right winger position. The electricity level in the sold out crowd went up several notches with Drogba in the game. Every time he was near or touched the ball the volume went up and large portions of the crowd rose to their feet. The man certainly has a presence about him.
Another smaller ovation happened when just back from a lengthy injury Justin Mapp entered the game in Andres Romero’s place in the 69th minute. Not only significant as he was just making his second appearance since shattering his right elbow in the first game of the season, but because it was his 300th game in the MLS. He is the youngest player to reach this mark at 30 years and 10 months of age.
Things did not go according to script in a game which was the team’s first sell out in pretty much two years as Drogba was not able to notch a goal or two in his first game in an Impact uniform and even worse was the fact that the Union was able to score a late goal of their own. In the 78th minute Sebastien Le Toux, a man who drew the ire of Impact fans for his complaining about lack of calls by linemen and referee, scored a rather fortunate goal. Assistd on the goal went to Eric Ayuk Mbu C.J. Sapong. Sapong started the play by lifting a ball towards Eric Ayuk Mbu. Mbu launched a shot on the net which was partially deflected by Le Toux past Evan Bush. Some members of the Impact were complaining that Le Toux was offside, but he was kept onside by Donny Toia. The goal was Le Toux’s sixth of season and really the Union’s only real chance of the game.
The best chance for Montreal to earn a point in the game after going down 1-0 came in the 90th minute when Drogba himself earned a free kick about 22 yards out from a central position. The Ivory Coast native took the kick and it was well struck going over the wall and then dipping down at the right time. Unfortunately the fairy tale ending ended when the ball was a foot wide of the right post. Another demonstration of Drogba’s skill set.
Over Drogba’s 31 minutes on the pitch he did demonstrate on occasion what Montreal fans should expect from him. With his large frame and ability to win headers he is able to get to balls other strikers could not. He had two shots and won two fouls. His teammates have to learn how to use him best and how to get the ball to him so he can work his magic. That will come over time.
This away victory ended a 5-game winless streak for the Philadelphia Union. It also continued Montreal’s struggle at home. Up until recently Saputo Stadium had been dubbed Fortress Saputo due to Montreal’s strong play there. They rarely dropped points at home over the early part of the season, but lately it has not been the case with a tie and a couple of losses.
Next up for Montreal is a mid-week away game. They are playing in Vancouver on Wednesday night in the second match of their Amway Canadian Champion. The two sides drew 2-2 in the first game in Montreal. Klopas stated that Drogba told him he wants to play in the game though he has decided not to give the striker the start.
-On-field Officials: Referee – Edvin Jurisevic
Linesmen – Daniel Belleau and Gianni Facchini
-Goals: 2nd Half:
78th minute: Philadelphia – Sebastian Le Toux assisted by Eric Ayuk Mbu and C.J. Sapong
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 4
Philadelphia – 2
-Corners: Montreal – 8
Philadelphia – 4
-Final Score: Montreal – 0
Philadelphia – 1