Didier Drogba and the Montreal Impact face a showdown with rival Toronto in Tuesday’s first leg of the Major League Soccer semi-finals, which also features a Seattle-Colorado opening matchup.
The conference finals will determine what two teams advance to the December 10 MLS Cup final, with either Toronto FC or the Montreal Impact set to become the first Canadian club in the championship match.
“It’s the kind of game that can be a fantastic experience for football in Canada,” Impact striker Drogba said. “This is the best thing that could happen for this country. The way people are so passionate here about the game, it’s amazing what we’ve been doing, what the fans have been doing, so I think it’s going to be great for the future.”
The former Chelsea star controversially did not suit up for Montreal’s first two playoff games, citing back issues, and the 38-year-old Ivory Coast playmaker likely will be a substitute Tuesday as he was in a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls earlier this month.
“To win the conference final would be something huge, knowing the history of the club and where we started when I first came and where we are now,” Drogba said. “I think there’s a lot to be proud of so it would mean a lot.”
The first leg of the Eastern Conference final was moved from the Impact’s natural grass home field to the artificial grass of Olympic Stadium, the enclosed main venue for the 1976 Summer Games, to allow for a possible crowd of more than 60,000 — triple the usual Impact capacity.
“Any time you mention turf in MLS, guys kind of roll their eyes a little bit,” said Toronto defender Drew Moor. “It’s the same for both teams. It’s not going to be a factor at all.
“It’ll be a fantastic venue. It’ll be a fantastic atmosphere. We’re excited to go.”
Montreal ousted Toronto 3-0 last year in the knockout round of the playoffs. This year, the teams have gone 1-1-1 against each other, the most recent meeting a 2-2 draw last month. Toronto leads the all-time rivalry 6-4-4.
“Even if this rivalry is young, it still exists. It’s always exciting to play a derby, but it must be won,” Drogba said.
“Derbies are really difficult games and could end up with no goals. And we can’t afford to get carried away by the fans and their support. We need to stay focused and make sure we’re there when we have to be.”
– Western Conference finals –
The same issues will be true in the Western Conference finals, where host Seattle will face a Colorado Rapids side that is reeling from the loss of goalkeeper Tim Howard, who will need four months to recover from a right groin injury suffered while with the US national team in a World Cup qualifying loss to Mexico.
Zac MacMath, who started Colorado’s first 16 games of the season before Howard arrived, will guard the woodwork in his place. The Rapids had nine wins and five draws in their first 16 games of the season.
“I’m very excited to start again,” MacMath said. “After the front half of the season I had, it’s just another great opportunity to show off my skills in the post-season. I’ve never had a playoff game before so I’m excited about it. I’m ready for it.”
The Rapids surrendered only 32 goals over 34 regular-season matches.
“Colorado has gained some deserved notoriety as far as being the best defensive team in our league this year,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Seattle will likely be without MLS Rookie of the Year Jordan Morris, who tweaked a hamstring in the prior playoff round against Dallas.
Colorado won both regular-season meetings with Seattle but they haven’t played since May.
© 2016 AFP
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