WASHINGTON – The Montreal Impact put in a gutsy performance on Sunday night, trudging through stifling humidity to earn a 1-1 draw against a D.C. United side eager to thrust themselves back into playoff contention.
It took 86 minutes for the Impact to find the back of the net through substitute Hernan Bernardello, and they did so shorthanded. Didier Drogba wasn’t there to celebrate with his teammates, sent off in the 81st minute after he appeared to press his knee into United midfielder Marcelo Sarvas during a stoppage in play. It was the former Chelsea legend’s first red in his MLS career, one that left Impact head coach Mauro Biello scratching his head after the match.
“I didn’t see it,” Biello told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “I have to re-watch it. Obviously [Drogba] said he just leaned up against him, he didn’t lift up his leg or anything like that, he just leaned into him as he walked towards him. In the end I’ve got to re-watch it and see what it is – but, you know, the fans were screaming and sometimes they get influenced and they make a call like that.”
Though the red was a first for Drogba, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. The former Ivory Coast international, who will be suspended for Montreal's home match against Houston on Saturday, is a physical player, known for using his sizable frame to body off defenders and wrestle for position. He was involved in several battles on Sunday night before he appeared to lash out at Sarvas, who had drawn the ire of a few of Drogba’s Impact teammates on a couple of different occasions earlier in the match.
Drogba’s physical play has led some MLS observers to wonder if his status as an international legend earns him a bit of preferential treatment.
Not so, said Biello.
“I think defenders get away with a lot more against [Didier] – because he’s physical, and he goes down, and it’s a foul. I think he doesn’t get enough calls. I think every team plays these double-teams, these hands on his shoulders and everything – he doesn’t get those calls because he’s big and he’s Didier Drogba.
“In the end it’s a foul – a foul is a foul. It’s something that in the end hopefully will improve.”
While he wasn't thrilled with Drogba's red, Biello was pleased with his team's comeback, which saw them move into a three-way tie for third in the East with Philadelphia and Toronto.
"It was a difficult game for us," he said. "You've got to give D.C. credit, they pushed the game from the beginning, created chances, we held in there, we held our own in there and in the end I was happy that we came back, even with a man down, to get that goal and get a point because it wasn’t our best game. Overall, I think it shows character to bounce back and get a point here."