Remembering Didier Drogba’s MLS Career

After Tuesday night’s 3-2 home win over Toronto FC, Didier Drogba revealed that he will not return to Montreal Impact for next season. His contract is expiring and after a season filled with injuries, dressing room drama, and relegation to bench duty by the end of it, he is calling it quits on a short, but electric MLS career.

Remembering Didier Drogba’s MLS Career

Coming in Hot

After a discovery rights dispute and a “sign and trade” deal between the Impact and Chicago Fire, Drogba’s arrival in Montreal was announced to much fanfare in the summer of 2015. His first start was on September 5 against Chicago. He scored three of the Impact’s four goals en route to a 4-3 win. All told, he played in 11 matches at the end of last regular season and he scored 11 times.

He helped Montreal win a knockout round playoff game against Canadian rivals Toronto FC by scoring the third goal in a 3-0 shutout at Stade Saputo. That would be his only goal in the playoffs as the Impact fell over two legs to eventual Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew in the next round.

Injuries and Drama

His 2016 campaign got off to a rocky start before the first match was even played. He spent the preseason training with Chelsea instead of with his own teammates. Many rumors swirled that he would even hang up his boots and take up a coaching gig with his former English club. He picked up knee injuries during the offseason that kept him from playing early season matches on artificial turf.

Once he did see the pitch, things didn’t exactly go well. His debut was an unspectacular substitute appearance against the FC Dallas on March 20. It resulted in 20 minutes of mediocre play. He did score an equalizer in his next match nearly a month later, a 2-1 win against the Fire as a substitute. His first start was at home on April 24 in a 2-0 home defeat to Toronto. He became a regular again after that. He made 16 appearances on the season and scored ten times.

The end of the season brought a return to the drama that plagued the late winter and early spring. He was left on the bench for the entire month of October and even refused to travel to Washington D.C. for the knockout round match against D.C. United. Although he cited a back injury, there’s a good chance that the Impact were simply unimpressed with his play. He returned to the pitch for a 2-1 second leg win over New York Red Bulls as a sub and again Tuesday night. In his final game in Montreal, he saw Toronto FC score a second away goal as the Impact almost watched a 3-0 lead wilt away to nothing.

Montreal Without Drogba

As important as a player Drogba was at the end of last season, the tail end of 2016 proved that the Impact will be perfectly okay without him there. They have one of the most electric attacks in the league, spearheaded by Dominic OduroMatteo Mancosu, and, most prominently, Ignacio Piatti. Drogba was a wonderful edition to this crew, but his 38-year-old legs could no longer keep up with the relative youngsters now carrying the torch for his club.

In the grand scheme of things, Drogba may well be remembered as another player in a long line of soon to be retirees coming to close out their careers in MLS. However, he had an impact unlike anyone else in this category. Drogba came in with a fire that we had not been used to seeing from aging Europeans.

He came in with a blaze of glory and goals while flaming out almost as quickly as he burst in. For about two months at the end of 2015 he was the best player in MLS. That cannot be said for any of the recent old men to come stateside, who have an air of laziness about them as they collect easy paychecks.

It’s impossible to say for certain, but his vast playing experience is believed to have been a big factor in developing Montreal’s current talent. Midfielder Patrice Bernier certainly thinks so. “Didier brought so much on the field, off the field, with his leadership and experience and he brought a human factor as well,” he told ESPN after Tuesday’s match.

Regardless of the towards the end of his tenure in Quebec, Drogba still has the chance to go out a champion. His Impact hold a 3-2 aggregate lead heading into the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final in Toronto next Tuesday. He may not be a key fixture in that match, or a potential MLS Cup Final appearance in Seattle or Colorado, but his legacy will be part of what got Montreal Impact as far as they have.