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Impact coach stands by decision to bench Didier Drogba after draw to Toronto FC

Last Updated Oct 16, 2016 at 9:00 pm EDT

MONTREAL – Montreal Impact coach Mauro Biello stands by his decision to put Didier Drogba on the bench, even if it prompted the Ivorian legend to go AWOL for Sunday’s game against rival Toronto FC.

Drogba opted to not even show up at Saputo Stadium for the 2-2 draw when he learned that, for a third straight match, newcomer Matteo Mancosu would be the starting striker.

“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.

“We had a game to play. I had 28 other players to think about and we put the team first.”

What remains to be seen is whether Drogba’s days in Montreal are over. Biello wasn’t sure, although he hopes the former Chelsea star stays on because he is a valuable weapon off the bench.

“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.

Drogba took Major League Soccer by storm in 2015, when he joined the Impact mid-season and scored 11 goals in as many regular season games. His presence and skill helped the Impact finish third in the Eastern Conference.

He has been less effective this season, but still has 10 goals in 23 league matches, including 18 starts.

Drogba joined MLS on the understanding that he would play regularly, but Biello opted to go with Mancuso as the lone striker for a third straight game after posting a pair of wins with the Italian up front. The team said before the match that Drogba had a stiff back, but Biello admitted later that was not why he wasn’t in the starting 11.

“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. “And also to have Didier come off the bench, which is an excellent tool to have.

“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 sent a good luck message to his teammates, who responded to the incident with a solid effort against a tough rival, as they’ve done all season when Drogba has missed games. His 38-year-old knees don’t like artificial turf, so he sits out those games, like the Impact’s 1-0 win in Orlando two weeks ago and their regular season-ending game next Sunday at New England.

But players want Drogba to stay.

“He brought a lot to this team and I’m pretty sure he’ll continue to do that for the rest of the season,” said captain Patrice 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.”

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