MONTREAL – Didier Drogba returned to training with the Montreal Impact on Friday after missing a day with gastroenteritis and should be available to face one of his favourite opponents — the Chicago Fire.
Five of the 19 goals the former Chelsea star has scored in only 25 Major League Soccer matches have come against the Fire, including a hat trick in his first start for Montreal last Sept. 5. Drogba also scored in a win last October and again in a 2-1 victory in Chicago on April 16.
The fifth-place Impact (8-6-9) play host to the last-place Fire (4-11-7) on Saturday night at Saputo Stadium looking for goals after a 3-1 away setback last weekend to the New York Red Bulls.
Chicago is 0-9-2 away from home this season and has not won on the road in 36 matches since July, 2014.
Coach Mauro Biello’s message to his squad was not to underestimate the Fire, who have been bringing in new players and have a young, unpredictable lineup. He noted that Chicago may not have any players left from the team Drogba scored against last September.
“The reality is that any team could beat any team,” Biello said. “You see that every week in the league.
“Seattle was last and all of a sudden they’re beating teams. Houston is giving everybody a game. You’ve got to be sharp every game or you’re in trouble. If you take every opponent seriously you have a chance.”
The Fire may give a first start to newly acquired, six-foot-four striker David Arshakyan, a 21-year-old Armenian who scored 25 goals in 34 games in the Lithuanian league in 2015.
Biello must decide whether to try the two-striker formation with Drogba and Matteo Mancosu he used against the Red Bulls or go back to the usual 4-2-3-1. They got the first goal, with Mancosu feeding Ignacio Piatti for his 13th of the season, but the defence faltered as New York struck back less than a minute later.
Fingers were pointed at centreback Victor Cabrera, but veteran Laurent Ciman has not been at top form as he works through an ankle problem and readjusts to MLS after playing for Belgium at the European Championship.
“There’s a lack of cohesion right now on the back line,” said Biello. “Laurent has been struggling, working with an injury, and that doesn’t help.
“That he was gone for a month and a half hurt the rhythm in the duo because it is a partnership when you play with two centrebacks. You need to move together to be effective. We’re working on it and adjusting little things that can help us improve.”
The Impact are entering a busy stretch of three games in eight days. After Chicago, they play host to D.C. United on Wednesday night before an Aug. 27 showdown with rival Toronto FC at BMO Field.
“The three games, if we can get the nine points, it could put us in good position for the playoffs,” said Piatti. “We are all thinking that way.
“We need to start with Chicago and then think about the others. Chicago will be tough. They have nothing to lose.”
The Impact will be without Ambroise Oyongo, who saw the red card against New York and was suspended one game. That would put Donny Toia in at left back.
Midfielders Patrice Bernier, Harry Shipp and Lucas Ontivero are recovering from injuries.
Defender Hassoun Camara is expected to become the first to make 100 MLS starts with the Impact.