MONTREAL – Didier Drogba practiced with the Montreal Impact on Tuesday and said afterward that he's prepared to come off the bench when the Impact take on the New York Red Bulls in the second leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal series in the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday at Red Bull Arena(4 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes | TSN5, RDS in Canada).
"I've done that in my career, even in Chelsea, you know, in Champions League games," Drogba said on Tuesday about coming off the bench. "I started in my career as a sub so I don't know why it should be difficult for me to be on the bench. I think I've showed it, even against San Jose, so I don't think it's difficult for people to understand I can be on the bench and without making it a big drama. Anyway, I'm not the type of guy to justify what I'm doing or not."
Drogba was famously not in the 18-man lineup for the Impact's 2-2 Oct. 16 draw with Toronto FC that clinched a spot in the playoffs for Montreal. Impact coach Mauro Biello said after the game that Drogba asked not to be included in the gameday roster once he was informed he wasn't starting the game. Drogba then missed Montreal's final regular season game, and their first two playoff games – the 4-2 win over D.C. United in the Knockout Round and the 1-0 win over the Red Bulls in first leg of their series last Sunday at Stade Saputo – with what the team said was a back problem.
He said his back is feeling better now.
"It's a bit better, but not the best, not what I want. But we're working on it," Drogba said at the Impact's Centre Nutrilait training facility. "We've been working for days to get back to fitness and today, for the first time, I managed to make two sessions, one this morning and one this afternoon, so, a bit satisfied."
If the 38-year-old striker is fit to play Sunday, he almost certainly won't be in the starting lineup. The day after he refused to dress for the game against Toronto FC, Drogba met with Biello and Impact owner Joey Saputo, and afterward, Saputo said Drogba had agreed to play whatever role Biello assigned to him, including coming off the bench.
On Tuesday, Drogba danced around the matter when speaking to the media for the first time since he met with Saputo and Biello.
"I don't think it's time to create more negativity," Drogba said. "And I think it's really time to enjoy what the team is doing right now and be behind them and say to the fans that we need them to be behind us in New York and support the team."
Matteo Mancosu has taken Drogba's place as the starting striker. The Italian joined Montreal in July on a one-year loan from Italian club Bologna, which is also owned by Saputo. He scored the lone goal in the first-leg win over the Red Bulls, and scored two goals in the win over D.C. United, giving him three goals in two playoff games.
Drogba has not started since the Impact's 1-0 loss at the Red Bulls on Sept. 24; he has not played since coming off the bench for the final 20 minutes of Montreal's 3-1 win against the San Jose Earthquakes four days later.
He hopes he and the team can put the controversy about his current role to rest.
"I think it's behind us," Drogba said. "Let's focus on what's next, you know, the game. From now, I think you're not going to hear some negativity about what happened, so please, let's try to be positive. If you want to carry on and kill me, kill me. But it's fine. Please don't touch the team, don't touch the club because we have an objective and we're trying to do better than last year."