Impact’s Drogba to face old Premier League rivals Gerrard, Keane in L.A.

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MONTREAL — The Didier Drogba show is going on the road.

The Montreal Impact and their star striker begin a two-game west coast trip Saturday night against the defending Major League Soccer champion Los Angeles Galaxy. They will move on to San Jose to face the Earthquakes on Wednesday night.

“They’re going to be hard games, back to back,” said midfielder Maxim Tissot. “We have five games in the next two weeks, so there will be a rotation and everyone will be called upon.

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“With 10 games left (in the regular season) and us fighting for a playoff spot, we need to get results, even on the road.”

The Impact (9-11-4), in the sixth and last Eastern Conference playoff spot but with games in hand on all rivals, are feeling better about themselves since Drogba’s spectacular first start last Saturday. The former Chelsea star scored a hat-trick in a 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire.

He will encounter some familiar faces from his Premier League days at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., including former Tottenham forward Robbie Keane and ex-Liverpool midfield maestro Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard has alerted his teammates to Drogba’s skill and physical presence around the goal.

“It’s important not to get into a fight with him because there’s usually only one winner,” Gerrard told the Galaxy website. “You have to play him cute and be aggressive with him, but at the right times.”

Drogba’s ability to win the ball inside the penalty area and convert crosses from the wings added a new dimension to Montreal’s attack, hitherto based mainly on counterattacks in games away from home.

The Impact have won only twice on the road this season.

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“My focus is on these next 10 games,” said Mauro Biello, entering his second game as interim head coach since replacing the fired Frank Klopas. “It’s getting this group to come together, and Didier is part of the puzzle, the formula.

“We’re a talented group and I think if we’re able to come together we can make good things happen.”

Beating the Galaxy will be a challenge, particularly with top central defender Laurent Ciman serving the first of a two-game suspension. Victor Cabrera returns from a one-game ban to take Ciman’s place alongside Wandrille Lefevre.

The Impact will have Costa Rica midfielder Johan Venegas and Cameroon fullback Ambroise Oyongo back from international duty.

Montreal got star midfielder Ignacio Piatti back from a calf injury against Chicago and the Argentine looked to have new enthusiasm with Drogba as a passing target.

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“It was 20 days I was out, so I took it easy because I was still missing something,” said Piatti. “But for this game in Los Angeles, I feel good.”

The Galaxy (13-8-7), who were passed for top spot in the West this week by the Vancouver Whitecaps, lead MLS with 49 goals in 28 matches.

Keane, who is third in league scoring with 15 goals, and Gerrard are supported by a gifted attacking group that includes winger Gyasi Zardes and forwards Gonvani Dos Santos and Alan Gordon.

In goal, acquired July 30 from Orlando, is former Impact ‘keeper Donovan Ricketts.

“That’s a quality team,” said fullback Donny Toia, who knows the venue from playing last season for the defunct Chivas USA. “You’ve got to play good defence against them.

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“If we do we should be OK. It’s a big field, pretty wide, so we can’t get spread out. If we do, Keane and Zardes will just run us down. We have to stay compact and communicate really well.”

The Galaxy are well rested, although they lost their last outing 1-0 at San Jose on Aug. 28 to end a four-game winning run.

 

 

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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