Matteo Mancosu emerges to become key Impact striker during playoffs

MONTREAL -- Despite playing in the footsteps of a soccer legend, Matteo Mancosu continues to produce at a significant pace for the Montreal Impact since taking over the starting striker's job from Didier Drogba during the season.

Mancosu scored Montreal's second goal in the Impact's 3-2 win against Toronto FC in the first leg of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Championship series at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday.

The 31-year-old Italian from Cagliari has scored four goals while starting each of Montreal's four straight playoff wins. He also has one assist after scoring three goals and one assist in 15 MLS regular season games, including seven starts, since joining the Impact on a one-year loan from Bologna on July 7.

"They didn't tell me [that I'd be playing into November], but I'm happy to get to this point," Mancosu said after practice on a snowy pitch at Centre Nutrilait on Friday. "That means that we're in the final of the East and we're a step from the MLS final. It's normal that it's very cold and you suffer a little, but the satisfaction that you get in return from the fans and club are much greater."

The satisfaction on the part of the team and its fans is mutual with regards to Mancosu's impact up front. He has teamed up with Ignacio Piatti, who led Montreal with 17 goals during the regular season, and Dominic Oduro to form a fast and formidable trio.

Mancosu acknowldeged the trio's offensive contributions while spreading the credit around the whole team for the Impact's remarkable playoff run, which began with a fifth-place finish in the East and has led to the second leg of this most significant edition of the 401 Derby at BMO Field in Toronto on Wednesday (7 pm ET, TSN1/3/4/5, RDS in Canada | FS1 in US).

"We're all scoring, so it's normal that the trust and the understanding that we're all useful [to the team] and that we're all playing for each other has grown a lot," Mancosu said. "Whoever comes in and plays gives everything they can, so it's not just us up top, it's the whole team. It's a good time for us and we hope it doesn't stop Wednesday."

Piatti has scored three playoff goals and both of his assists have set up goals by Mancosu.

"Piatti, he just opens a lot of space for himself and for other people," Impact captain Patrice Bernier said about the connection between Piatti and Mancosu. "And now that you have another player through the middle that maybe threatens the defense and forces them to back, it's either you choose to mark Nacho or you mark the space, which it gives Nacho space to dribble.

"And they just found chemistry of when to give the pass or when to dribble, and it's been beautiful to see at the back because when we defend as well and you see those guys able to combine and create space and a chance to goal, it's good. But we talk about a two, but Dom has been fantastic, too."

Oduro scored the Impact's first goal 10 minutes in on Tuesday and got his third assist of the playoffs moments later when he launched the play that led to Mancosu's 2-0 strike.

"We're finding the right spots, finding the good delivery, and the game now has changed, it's transition," Bernier said. "As much as you want to prevent transition, it's always happening because there's always one team that loses the ball. And we're lucky enough to have three guys up front that are quick. Nacho, of course, off the dribble but the other two have pace and find spots, and they're in confidence.

"That's what you want in the playoffs, that your strikers, your offensive players, they have one or two chances and they put one at the goal. And we know their quality so we try to play through those qualities, and it showed in the last game."

While Piatti and Toronto striker Sebastian Giovinco garner the bulk of the debate about who represents the biggest threat in the all-Canadian series, Mancosu is fine with striking from the shadows.

"No problem," Mancosu said. "It's normal. Those are the players that played the entire regular season. And they did it so well. They scored around 20 goals each. So it's normal that the attention goes to them. What I try to do is I try to do my share when I'm called on and I'm happy for Montreal because it's an organization that deserves [the success]. It's grown a lot in recent years and is showing that it's on par with the strongest teams."

Mancosu has been able to compare notes about playing in North America with fellow Italian and Bologna alum Marco Di Vaio, who scored 34 goals in 76 games, including 64 as the Impact's starting striker during their first three MLS seasons.

"Of course there's a bit of a difference," Mancosu said. "You have to understand the [idiosyncrasies] of the league and the mechanisms of the team. Luckily, I was able to do it right away thanks to the team and the head coach. They made me feel important and they helped me understand the style of play and the results show. They deserve the credit. On my end, I'm a professional. I try to do my work and that's it."

Di Vaio retains close ties to the Impact, whose owner, Joey Saputo, also owns Bologna.

"Here and at Bologna he had a great career and he's continuing it as a team manager with [Bologna]," Mancosu said. "It's normal that it'd be a real pleasure to see him here. I owe a lot to them, both to Bologna and the president. The fact that I'm here is because of them and so I try to give my best."

Mancosu said discussion of his plans for the future will have to wait until after the MLS Cup playoffs.

"We just said hello to the guys from Bologna, and then think about this game," Mancosu said. "It's too important. As for the future, there's a month and a half and plenty of time to talk."