Drogba will not play on turf to start MLS season

The Ivorian will miss four of the Montreal Impact’s first five games because the club won't allow him to play on artificial surfaces.

MONTREAL — Due to ongoing knee problems, the Montreal Impact won’t risk Didier Drogba playing on turf to start the MLS season, club technical director Adam Braz told assembled media at Olympic Stadium on Thursday.  

“Didier won’t be available for the beginning of the season while we’re training or playing on turf,” Braz said. “It’s too big of a risk for us to take with him with his knee. As we saw last year when we played [on turf] in New England, his knee really swelled up and he really had a tough time recovering afterwards for the playoffs.”

Not playing on artificial surfaces would mean the 38-year-old will miss four of the Impact’s first five games of the season: the season opener in Vancouver on Sunday, the home opener against New York Red Bulls on March 12, an away fixture at Seattle Sounders on March 26, and a rematch of last season’s conference semifinals against Columbus Crew at Olympic Stadium on April 9. Drogba could make his debut away to FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium in March 19, which will be played on grass.

With the Impact also training on turf indoors at Olympic Stadium until the second week of April, Braz said that the club is looking for a place where Drogba could train on grass in the meantime. According to RDS.ca, the Impact were hoping to have Drogba train in Florida with Miami FC, a team coached by former Impact player Alessandro Nesta, but that MLS wouldn’t allow it.

Braz would only say that they were still looking for a solution.

“We’re not going to comment on where he’s going,” Braz said. “Right now we’re looking at different scenarios and different options to find the best environment for him to train and get fit and be ready for the game in Dallas.

He added: “We’ve already had discussions and explained to them (MLS) exactly what’s going on, the reasons and the fact that it’s a big risk with where he’s at with his knee. So they’re fully aware of everything that’s going on.”

Based off his negative experience of playing on turf at the end of last season, Drogba explained that the decision to not play on turf was simply a precautionary one. 

“It’s a discussion we already had last year because I had to play on turf in New England and Orlando, so there’s nothing new,” Drogba said. “In the warm-up before the Orlando game I felt some inflammation in my knee and so I only came on later in the second half. I played the game in New England because it was decisive for making the playoffs. Today I can’t take these risks. The season is long and it’s not worth the risk of playing these games. It’s not that I don’t want to play, but it’s because I can’t play, because of my knee.”

Regarding the possibility of temporarily leaving Montreal to train on grass he added: “It’s [about] what is more comfortable for me, for my knee. I would love to train here actually. I would love to train in Montreal. For me it’s better if I don’t move from here and train on grass pitch; it would be perfect. What I want is a pitch with grass and be able to train, and not feel any problem with the knee.

After scoring 11 goals in 11 games upon his arrival last season, Drogba was in talks with Chelsea and Montreal over the possibility of retiring and returning to the Premier League club as an assistant, but he ultimately returned to the Impact to honor the last year remaining on his contract.

Drogba said he was committed to helping the Impact achieve their goals this season.

“Believe me, if I wanted to be with Chelsea I would be with Chelsea,” Drogba said. “A lot of things have been said, there’s been a whole saga, but this is part of football. At this level there’s always transfer rumors and these are things that happen. But as soon I got here, I’ve been here 100 percent. We proved last year that we could be one of the teams that could win the league. I think this year we’re going to work hard and try to improve the team.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that a superstar avoids playing on turf as Thierry Henry regularly missed games on artificial surfaces with the New York Red Bulls. It remains to be seen whether Drogba avoids turf surfaces beyond the start of the campaign as well.