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Red Bulletin: Drogba has a stiff back and Biello has a headache

What do you do when your best player seems to make the team worse?

MLS: New England Revolution at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Bulletin is Waking the Red’s morning update on Toronto FC, wider MLS talking points and more. Related and unrelated chat below the line is welcome.

The news of Didier Drogba’s disappearance from Stade Saputo on Sunday was greeted with widespread glee by Toronto FC fans, which is understandable given the Ivorian’s reputation and goalscoring record. On the day the Reds welcomed Sebastian Giovinco back into the fold, the Montreal Impact’s talisman had gone AWOL with the playoffs looming on the horizon.

That delight, though, may have been misguided. Mauro Biello did not leave Drogba on the bench as part of some kind of personal grievance or power grab; he did so because there is growing evidence that Montreal have a distinctly better chance of winning without him.

Comparing a team’s record with and without one player is not foolproof statistical analysis, but in this case it is difficult to ignore the contrast. With Drogba in the starting lineup, the Impact have won three, drawn eight and lost seven in MLS play this season. That’s a disastrous record - it equates to 32 points over a full season, which is one more than the last-place Chicago Fire currently have with a game left - and one that has only got worse (one win, two draws and five losses in their last eight) as the campaign has worn on.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Without Drogba in the starting lineup - but including appearances he has made from the bench, which is exactly how Biello hoped to use him on Sunday - the Impact have a stellar 28 points from 15 games (a Supporters’ Shield-winning 63 over a full season) and have not suffered defeat since their trip to Orlando City on May 21. Their other two losses in those games came on tough road trips to Seattle and Dallas.

In short, the Impact are nearly twice as good when they leave Drogba on the bench or out of the squad entirely.

Biello, then, is entirely justified in leaning towards Matteo Mancosu instead. Their game plan against Toronto worked; the team was built around Ignacio Piatti’s strengths, rather than Drogba’s, and the Argentine scored two goals, with the pacy, direct Mancosu winning the penalty for his second. If Drogba had been available from the bench to occupy defenders and hold the ball up, it might have been more difficult for Toronto to dominate the closing stages as they did before Tosaint Ricketts’ equaliser.

Unfortunately for Biello, it is not as simple as that. Drogba is the goalscorer, a dominant figure in the dressing room - as evidenced by the lack of annoyance, at least publicly, on the part of his teammates at his no-show - and, at least for now, the face of the franchise. In purely footballing terms, considering Drogba’s place in the XI makes perfect sense both today and with next season in mind, but it is also bound to attract the kind of scrutiny that could distract and split the team when it matters most.

Recommended reading

Doug McIntyre has more on Drogba and the power of the designated-player tag over at ESPN FC.

David Squires’ latest cartoon on the return of the Premier League is as good as ever.

Robbie Dunne over at Into the Calderon has written a nice profile of Koke, one of the world’s top midfielders.