MONTREAL – Didier Drogba is always a presence with the Montreal Impact even when he isn't on the field or the practice pitch.
Drogba's absence from practice on Friday drew attention amid rumors that there is interest in the veteran Ivorian striker from Napoli of Italy's Serie A.
Montreal coach Mauro Biello denied that there was any substance to the rumors while explaining that Drogba was having physiotherapy after working hard the previous three days at practice.
On Thursday, Biello said Drogba is available to play against Toronto FC at Stade Saputo on Sunday (3 pm ET, ESPN | TSN2, RDS in Canada), either as a starter or off the bench.
"Absolutely [he is available]," Biello said. "With Didier, obviously it's a different look for us, but it also could be a look that's very dangerous. So for us, we're looking at all our options, and to be able to have him off the bench or start gives me a lot to choose from."
Drogba did not play in the Impact's 1-0 win at Orlando SC on October 2, four days after coming on in the 70th minute of Montreal's 3-1 win against San Jose.
"I think with Didier, you know, he's been working hard and for me, he's available depending on what we're looking for in a particular game in terms of the opposition, in terms of what we want," Biello said. "I think he's ready whether he starts or he comes off the bench, and he's been very professional in his work."
Italian striker Matteo Mancosu has started three of the Impact's past five games and is likely to get the nod up front against Toronto.
"We've seen them at the end of games together and I think it could be a situation that repeats itself if we need to go with two up top and they would be the two," Biello said. "Obviously, the way we're structured in midfield, I think we're better off with that numerical advantage in midfield rather than playing with two in the defensive phase. So for us, it becomes an option when we have to push a game and push a little bit more and that's when maybe we could see that."
Forward Dominic Oduro spoke about Drogba's value to the Impact, even when he doesn't start or play in a game.
"I will just take a step back to the game in Orlando," Oduro said. "It was so hot, we were just struggling and Didier came to me and he was like, 'Listen, this game will literally fall on you because, you know why? It's hot and nobody's running but we just need one run from you, and trust me, that will be the game difference.' And that's what just happened. We made one run, got in behind the defense, ball in, and then we won the game.
"So he's a special force, more like a second coach on the field. So whether he starts or not, his presence is going to be needed, especially when it comes to critical situations like free kicks and stuff, we need him to do what he does best, so we rely on him, as much as people don't know, we rely on him verbally and body language, everything out there, so we need him out there and hopefully he shows that on Sunday."
Drogba's off-field contributions haven't gone unnoticed by Biello.
"Yeah, I think in the game against Orlando he's talking to Matteo in at halftime and giving what he saw and giving his advice, and so he's here to win," Biello said. "He wants to win and obviously every player wants to play but understands that there's different situations that come up in a season and in the end, there's choices that need to be made and he's ready whether he starts or he comes off the bench."
Michael Salazar has been mentored by Drogba throughout his rookie season, and he's just as impressed with what he has seen from his idol when he's not in the starting lineup as he is seeing him play.
"He's positive off the bench," Salazar said. "He's still encouraging guys. He still wants the guys that are ahead of him right now to do well, you know, he doesn't wish bad on anybody, and I think that's what a leader is and he's displaying that right now."