The Montreal Impact confirmed on Thursday that they are targeting the March 19 away match against FC Dallas for Didier Drogba’s 2016 season debut.
The Ivorian forward will sit out four of the club's first five matches in order to skip playing on artificial surfaces due to a nagging knee issue. The Impact’s first match scheduled on grass will be at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
“Didier won’t be available for the beginning of the season while we are on turf, either training or playing on turf,” Montreal technical director Adam Braz told a media scrum at Olympic Stadium. “It’s too big of a risk for us to take with him with his knee situation. As we saw last year when he played in New England, his knee really swelled up and he really had a tough time recovering afterward for the playoffs.
“We know if we manage him correctly, he’ll be good to go for the rest of the season and be healthy at the end when things count."
Drogba will skip trips to Vancouver (Sunday, 5:30 pm ET, TSN1/TSN3/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in US) and Seattle (April 2) as well as two matches hosted on the artificial surface at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium (March 12 and April 9). The team’s home slate moves to Stade Saputo’s grass surface for an April 23 showdown vs. Toronto FC.
Although there were questions about his knee on Thursday, Drogba made it clear there should be no doubts cast on where his heart lies. He says he’s focused on playing and winning with the Impact, a team that “proved last year that we could be one of the teams that could win the league."
"Believe me, if my head was in Chelsea, I’d be in Chelsea,” Drogba said in response to a question referring to offseason rumors about a potential return to his former English Premier League club. “I am here [in Montreal] to play and to win. With my teammates, we will do what is needed to go as far as possible and do better than last year."
In advance of the March 19 match at Toyota Stadium, there was media speculation that Drogba could potentially seek training opportunities in other warmer locations, but the Impact and Drogba didn’t feed into those rumors on Thursday.
"It’s not where I want to train. It’s what is more comfortable for me and for my knee,” Drogba said. "I would love to train here [in Montreal] actually. I would love to train in Montreal. For me it’s better if I don’t have to move from here and train on a grass pitch. It would be perfect. All I want is some football pitch with grass to be able to train and not feel any problem with the knee."
“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 solution of where the environment will be best for him to train and get fit to be ready for the game in Dallas [March 19]."