Didier Drogba has been a combination of David Beckham and Frank Lampard this season. He's off the field the majority of the time—for injuries or otherwise, just like Lampard—but when he plays, he's a dominating beast who can singlehandedly win games for the Montreal Impact. While he will never do what Beckham did for this league, he won't get booed by his own fans either. Drogba, as he was for Chelsea over the last ten years or so, is an interesting commodity for the Impact, although in a very different way than he was back in England.
Despite the fact that he's started less than 50% of the available games (five out of 12), he remains a very, very useful weapon for Mauro Biello and co. However, Drogba is not the decisive factor in the Impact's success.
Montreal was able to prove that early on in the season, when they caught fire and rocketed to first place in the Eastern Conference by mid-April thanks to the goal-scoring ability of Ignacio Piatti, rather than that of a fragile 38-year old. They played more like they did late last season—when the arrival of Drogba propelled them to serious MLS Cup contention—and were one of the best teams of the early season. It says a lot about them that they were able to do that without the former Premier League legend.
But recently, after Drogba returned from turf-induced absences, the Impact have lost their touch, drawing four times and losing once over the last five weeks. That's prompted some fans to opine that their star forward is somehow at fault for this recent drop in form, which is the equivalent of Patriots fans saying Tom Brady is responsible for the fact that New England 12-4 this season instead of 13-3. In reality, Montreal are simply dealing with a bout of inconsistency.
That inconsistency is rooted within multiple other struggles—like it always is—that we'll get to later. I say that it's "simple" because it's a common problem and one that isn't always fatal (unless you're the Houston Dynamo). There's no easy fix for it; it's just something that comes and goes.
Oh, sorry, I think Captain Obvious inserted himself into this article. Of course inconsistency comes and goes. That's literally the definition of the word. The point I'm trying to make here is that the Impact's form has been up and down this season. That's expected of most teams, but for Montreal, it's especially true.
Even during their early season run of success, they randomly lost two straight games against Western Conference opponents. They have gotten slightly more consistent of late—drawing four consecutive times—but in the grand scheme of things, they've been erratic: They started well, hovering around first place for a month, before falling hard, plunging all the way to fifth. Inconsistency is only the result of multiple other issues, though.
For one, the attack hasn't been as dominant. Drogba is as effective as ever in annoying center-backs and Piatti still morphs into the MLS Messi every once in a while, but they haven't been able to cancel out the defensive's troubles. Despite the presence of reigning MLS Defender the Year Laurent Ciman in the middle, the Impact's backline has allowed 12 goals in the past six games, including a 4-4 draw with Columbus a couple weeks ago.
Offseason acquisition Harry Shipp hasn't come into his own yet in Montreal while main midfield distributor Marco Donadel appears to be showing his advanced age. They've made mistakes defensively and have failed to produce consistent offense through entire games. Montreal have made a habit of dropping points they should have been able to pick up—with the obvious exception of the Crew game, in which they bounded back from a three-goal deficit and initiated the departure of Kei Kamara—and that very well could come back to haunt them.
For now, things simply aren't working for the Impact, and Biello will be tasked with finding a solution soon. It won't be getting easier, as they face the Galaxy this weekend.
Speaking of inconsistency, New York City FC went from road wins at Portland and D.C. and a draw in Toronto to a 7-0 shellacking at the hands of in-city rivals New York Red Bulls. After playing like the team to beat in the Eastern Conference for close to a month, NYCFC reverted back to their expansion team, Jason Kreis-led selves at Yankee Stadium. They played the worst possible May regular season game.
This is not to say that they are back to being terrible and will lose to Orlando on Sunday. But it also should be clear that there are plenty of significant issues that can be taken from that blowout against the Red Bulls, ones that will stay with them. Most notably, they have experienced struggles at home this season that could very well prevent them from making the postseason.
Winning at home is the key to enjoying regular season success in this league, but NYCFC have used road victories to get themselves to second in the Eastern Conference. Their away record is 3-2-1 while their home record is just 1-2-4, meaning they've accumulated five more of their points on the road despite playing one less match. The short field of Yankee Stadium has perplexed Patrick Viera and co. all season just as it did Kreis last season, and it is what could end up being the downfall of NYCFC.
We knew going into last season that the stadium—obviously intended for baseball, and thus noticeably shorter than a regulation field—would be a problem, but we didn't know it would effect NYC this much. The build-out-of-the-back strategy implemented by Viera has good intentions and has mostly worked for the Citizens, but it is not suited for Yankee Stadium's lack of space; as a result, they will rely on away points to make the playoffs.
That's not a good formula for success. Winning on the road in MLS is a tough thing to do, with the traveling, weather, altitudes and a ton of other factors. Doing it consistently is even tougher, so NYCFC face a near-impossible task in making the playoffs if they continue to struggle at home. It's crucial for NYCFC that Viera figures out how to do well in New York.
Skillful creators like Andrea Pirlo need space in midfield. Forward runners like David Villa and Khiry Shelton need room behind the defense. This team needs the territory provided by a full-size field in order to play the way they want to play. The 7-0 result was just an extreme example of New York struggling to produce at home, and it won't be an anomaly if they don't fix it.
Look for some adjustments to be made this weekend against Orlando City. They play at home again, and if things stay consistent, they won't do to well. But that never happens.
I'm sure you heard what Italy manager Antonio Conte said about leaving Sebastian Giovinco and Andrea Pirlo off of their Euro 2016 squad. Here's the quote, courtesy of Football Italia:
"We evaluated him (Pirlo) and Giovinco, it’s normal that if you choose to go and play there then you can pay the consequences in footballing terms."
Basically, he's saying that those two players missed out on the Euros because they play in a worse league than Conte is used to. Those are absolutely disgraceful, misinformed and frankly unintelligent comments made by a respected soccer mind. I would have expected someone as gifted and bright as Conte to be smarter than this.
He is another example of a Euro snob. Those are people—American and European—who refuse to have an open mind and realize that MLS is a good, quality league that does produce talent. Unfortunately, we all know them. Conte is letting his misguided opinions get in the way of selecting the best possible roster for a huge tournament.
I know, MLS is not as good as the Premier League. Or the Bundesliga. Or La Liga. It is not at the level of the top five European leagues, nor is it better than the Eredivisie, Liga MX, and the Portuguese Liga. I understand that it is not necessarily world-class yet. But it is a quality league that plays good soccer and has plenty of talented players. MLS-heavy USMNT squads have beaten teams like Italy in previous World Cups.
Conte clearly has not watched this league very much, and I don't care about his other comments about compiling in-depth scouting reports on Pirlo and Giovinco. He doesn't have any knowledge of it, or he would have selected at least Giovinco to his final squad. It really is unfortunate that a person like Conte with all of his experience would be this deluded.
I applaud Giovinco, who replied to these comments with grace and dignity. Here was his response when asked about the omission and his feelings toward it:
"I was upset. I need to keep improving so I can find my place back on the national team," Giovinco said, per ESPNFC. "I've said before, the league is continuing to grow and it's a beautiful league."
He deserved to make the team, and it's shameful that he wasn't included. Hopefully, Conte will realize that MLS is a good league and that players should not be punished because of his ridiculous and mistaken opinions. As time passes, those Euro snobs will fade away. For now, I hope Giovinco stays in MLS the rest of his career and starts for the Italian national once the manager leaves for Chelsea next season. He deserves it, and shouldn't be held back by people like Conte.