Didier Drogba won't play on turf for Montreal Impact to start MLS season
MONTREAL -- Didier Drogba will not risk his sore knee and sit out four of the Montreal Impact's early-season matches that are played on artificial turf, but the Chelsea legend confirmed that he will spend the entire 2016 campaign with the club.
The Impact play all but one of their opening five contests on turf, and technical director Adam Braz told reporters after the team trained here Thursday that playing the 38-year-old Ivorian on the unforgiving surface is "too big of a risk" to take early in the year.
"We saw last year when we played [on turf] in New England, his knee really swelled up and he really had a tough time recovering afterwards for the playoffs," Braz said. "It's simply a matter of not taking a risk. The season is long. There are 34 games.
"Its unfortunate with our scheduling that four of the first five games are on turf. We have to deal with that, but it's a long season and there are a lot of games left to play. If we manage him correctly, he'll be good to go for the rest of the season and healthy at the end, when it counts."
According to a report from Canadian broadcaster RDS, an idea was floated where Drogba would train on grass with NASL club Miami FC, which is coached by former Impact and AC Milan defender Alessandro Nesta. Braz said several options had been discussed internally, but declined to get into specifics.
Drogba, who opened his preseason by training in Qatar, said he was eager to stay with his teammates.
"I would love to train here, actually. I would love to train in Montreal," Drogba said. "For me it's better if I don't move from here and train on grass pitch; it would be perfect. What I want is a pitch with grass and be able to train, and not feel any problem with the knee."
But with a high of 9 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, training on natural grass won't be an option in the city for at least another month.
The harsh winter weather is the reason the Impact will open their season indoors at Olympic Stadium, as they do every year, before moving next door to the more intimate Stade Saputo. The only game they'll play on grass before hosting rival Toronto FC on April 23 is a March 19 encounter at FC Dallas.
"Right now we're looking at different scenarios and different options to find the best environment for him to train and get fit and be ready for the game in Dallas," Braz said.
While his training destination remains unclear, Drogba's commitment to the Impact isn't. In his first public comments since being linked to a move back to Chelsea in a coaching role this winter, the striker said that he's all-in with Montreal this season -- something owner Joey Saputo would not confirm as recently as last month.
"Believe me, if I wanted to be with Chelsea I would be with Chelsea," said Drogba, who scored 11 goals in 11 regular season games and led the club past Toronto in the first round of the MLS playoffs after signing with the Impact last summer.
"The season is long and it's not worth the risk of playing these games. It's not that I don't want to play, but it's because I can't play, because of my knee."
He added: "Ever since I got here my focus has been on the team. I'm here to play and to win. I'm doing everything I can, along with the team, to make sure we do better than last year. It's as simple as that."