October 29, 2015 | Sports
As the Biblical tale goes, the young David stood face-to-face with his enemy, Goliath, and severed his head to become the champion. Many adaptions of the battle have been published, and sports headlines are often filled with “David vs. Goliath” titles.
Tonight, though no heads will be severed, the 6’2” Didier Drogba will line-up against the 5’4” Sebastian Giovinco for a chance to birth their team into the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semi-final. The height difference between the two stars basically screams ‘David vs. Goliath’, but their respective teams, the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, are on an even playing field, which will produce an exciting Knockout Round game at the Saputo Stadium.
Playing each other just four days ago in Montreal, with the Impact winning 2-1, both teams will be equally rested and well prepared for the inaugural 401 Derby playoff match-up in the MLS. Drogba scored twice for the Impact in that game, notching his 10th and 11th goals in his 11th game with his new club. Since coming to North America from Chelsea in August, Drogba has lived up to his billing of ‘Drogba Legend’- which is inscribed on the banner that famously hung from Stamford Bridge in London, and now in Montreal.
Toronto also has their fair share of superstars. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore join Giovinco to round up their ‘Big Three’ of designated players. The international superstars have produced 40 of the team’s 58 league goals, with Giovinco leading the league with 22. The ‘Reds’ have a potent offence, but an unstable defence, which the Impact used to their advantage on Sunday. They have given up a league-worst 58 goals all season – a major influence to why they qualified with the final playoff spot in the conference.
The Impact seems to be a better-rounded team. With Belgian international Laurent Ciman on the backline, their defence has become almost unstoppable. They allowed 44 goals, which is the second-best in the East, only behind the New York Red Bulls (43 GA). Goalkeeper Evan Bush is a major reason behind this defensive dominance, as he has undoubtedly been the team’s MVP from start to finish in 2015. He used his athleticism and lightning-quick reflexes on Sunday to preserve the lead for the Impact and allowed them to host this Knockout Round game. A loss would have seen tonight’s game being played out in Toronto. The 15-13-6 Impact is 11-4-2 at home, while Toronto (15-15-4) is 4-10-3 on the road, and is winless away from home since June 6th. Bush’s heroics have given his team a huge-home field advantage.
Nonetheless, the Impact will need to play to the best of their abilities in order to win this game. Central defensive midfielders Nigel Reo-Coker and Marco Donadel will need to stay disciplined, focused and will need to cover a lot of ground in order to stop Toronto’s attack. They played well on Sunday, and limited Giovinco to only four shots, holding him scoreless.
Ciman will need help from his co-defenders in Victor Cabrera and Donny Toia, who have both been solid this season. After an 88th minute substitution and tackle on Altidore that saved the game late Sunday night, questions remain if Hassoun Camara or the incumbent Ambroise Oyongo will get the start at the right-back position. Oyongo can push the pace up the pitch, while Camara is sounder defensively but has been able to produce an attack at the same time. In a crucial playoff game, it will be interesting to see who head coach Mauro Biello elects to start.
The vicious attack led by Drogba will be joined by Ignacio Piatti as the attacking midfielder. The speedy Dominic Oduro will likely get the start on the right side with Andres Romero out with an injury. After Johan Venegas was replaced by Dilly Duka on the left side in their last game, Biello will have to face the decision to whom to start tonight. The front four will need to use their speed to take advantage of the weak TFC defence. Piatti will need to be smart, tactically, with the ball, as the Argentine has coughed up possession within 25 yards of the opponents net far too many times this season. He will need to feed the wings in order to send the ball in from wide for the strong and powerful Drogba.
The Impact also needs to draw off of the energy of the crowd. They need to pounce on the visitors early on and draw the momentum in their favour. Should the Impact act on their game plan with perfection, they could be well on their way to their first ever playoff win and a chance to play Columbus Crew SC in the conference semi-finals.
Although similar to Goliath when compared to the David-sized Giovinco, Didier “The Legend” Drogba will need to turn the tale on its head and lead his team to victory. Unlike the famous story, though, this time 20,801 witnesses will be cheering in favour of the bigger man.
It’s time to make history.