Didier Drogba refused to play after exclusion from Impact XI - Biello
MONTREAL -- Didier Drogba refused to play for the Montreal Impact in Sunday's 2-2 draw with Toronto FC because Mauro Biello didn't include him in his starting lineup, the coach confirmed after the match.
"Didier wasn't selected to start the game," Biello said. "I spoke with him yesterday he didn't accept the fact to come off the bench and, in the end, he did not want to be in the 18."
Despite Drogba's absence, the point earned against TFC combined with the New England Revolution's loss 2-1 in Chicago against the Fire clinched Montreal a playoff spot for the second consecutive season.
Before Sunday's match, the Impact said Drogba wasn't available because of a back injury. But reports began to emerge before the game was even finished that Drogba, whose contract expires in December, had asked out.
"Yes, there was a little bit of tightness in his back," Biello said. "But he was capable of playing." RDS's Patrick Friolet reported that Drogba was under the impression that he would start against TFC.
"You'd have to ask him that question," Biello responded when asked why Drogba reacted so strongly. "In the end, everybody works hard at training every day to be ready for selection. You're part of a team, and when you're selected or you're not selected, it's about being there for your teammates.
"It's important that things are settled in the end one way or another and we move forward," he continued. "That's the message."
The 38-year-old Drogba has made 18 starts for the Impact this season, his second in MLS after arriving from Premier League giants Chelsea in July 2015. Before Sunday, he had entered as a substitute in two of the Impact's four most recent games. Drogba scored 11 goals in 11 regular season games last year. He has 10 this year.
Heading into the final week of the 2016 season, the Impact have a better record without Drogba on the field that they do when he plays.
Still, teammates expressed hope that he'll be back for the postseason.
"Didier has been great in the locker room for us, he's been a great teammate," keeper Evan Bush said. "However it was handled, that's between him and Mauro. For us, we're just gonna have to move forward and whatever happens next week with that situation, we'll worry about it then."
Biello felt that Italian striker Matteo Mancosu's mobility up top and in transition would put more pressure on TFC's back four, with a fresh Drogba serving as a potent weapon late on. Asked what sort of discipline Drogba might face, he said that "the club is going to take care of the situation."
Reds coach Greg Vanney said he was surprised not to see Drogba listed as an available sub.
"It was pretty soon thereafter when somebody popped in and said he's gone AWOL," Vanney said. "That's unfortunate for them."
But the numbers don't tell the whole story about what Drogba, the 13th highest-paid player in MLS this season with a salary of $2.2 million, offers the Impact, according to Bush.
"He's one of the best strikers of his generation," Bush said. "To say we're a better team without him around, that's not necessarily true."
That's not to say his teammates are pleased.
"It sucks a bit," Impact captain Patrice Bernier said. "Now we're talking about Didier but we qualified for the playoffs, and that's the most important thing. The team comes before everything."
He expects Drogba to be back, however.
"I'm pretty sure Didier is [going to be there] in a week, and maybe say his piece because he's a guy that doesn't hide away," Bernier said, adding that he spoke to Drogba after the decision came down.
"Didier has brought a lot of things to this club and this team, and I'm pretty sure he's going to keep doing that for the remainder of the season."
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.