MLS: Didier Drogba scores again as Montreal Impact see off Toronto FC

MLS: Didier Drogba scores again as Montreal Impact see off Toronto FC

Main pic: Montreal Impact’s Didier Drogba celebrates after beating Toronto FC in an MLS soccer game in Montreal, Sunday, October 25, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes. 

MONTREAL — The Montreal Impact defeated Toronto FC only to find out they will face them again in the same place on Thursday, only this time in the Major League Soccer playoffs.

After falling behind and being outplayed in the first half, the Impact roared back on two goals from Didier Drogba to defeat TFC 2-1 on Sunday on the final day of the regular season.

The victory moved the Impact (15-13-6) into third place in the Eastern Conference while TFC (15-15-4) fell to sixth place. Montreal’s Saputo Stadium will be the venue Thursday when the teams meet again in a single-game knockout playoff game.

“It’s Toronto, so it’s always special, but it’s a playoff game now,” said Montreal captain Patrice Bernier. “It doesn’t matter who we’re going to play.

“It’s a one-off, so we have to show up from the first minute.”

The Impact got a scare late in the match when Drogba came up limping after a painful knock on the right leg from Ahmed Kantari, but he stayed in the game and said he should be OK for the playoff game.

Jozy Altidore scored for TFC, which dominated the first half only to see the tables turned after the intermission.

Coach Greg Vanney has four days to figure out a way to stop former Chelsea star Drogba, who helped Montreal go 7-2-2 down the stretch to earn its first ever home game in the MLS post-season.

“We’ve had a dress rehearsal, so you have a sense of what to expect.,” said Vanney. “The two teams have felt each other out.

“For us, it’s just the decision of going home or coming back and how to plan these next few days so we can recover and come back in the best form, physically, to compete. Tonight had a lot of little subplots that make a next match very interesting.”

A sellout crowd of 20,801 at Saputo Stadium, including a vocal group of a few hundred from Toronto, saw the Impact reach MLS season highs of 15 wins and 51 points. TFC has also had a record campaign, reaching the playoffs for the first time.

The Reds went into Decision Day, when all Eastern Conference teams played at the same time, with a shot at second place and a bye to the semifinals, although a Columbus win over D.C. United put that out of reach.

They emerged with a well deserved lead at the intermission, creating most of the first half chances and containing Drogba in their own end. Montreal keeper Evan Bush shot up his right hand to tip a Robbie Findley header over the bar in the 31st minute, just after Sebastian Giovinco shot just wide from the edge of the penalty area.

A quick counterattack off a Nigel Reo-Coker turnover at the halfway line saw the ball played wide left to Giovinco, who put a cross just over Laurent Ciman for Altidore to head in for his 11th goal of the season in the 45th minute. It was Altidore’s third goal in as many games against Montreal this season.

Vanney decried his side’s passive play to start the second half, when right away Chris Konopka stopped Ignacio Piatti from point blank and Drogba hit a crossbar. Then Piatti sent a cross in front that Drogba shovelled in with his left foot in the 54th minute. Off a corner kick less than a minute later, he redirected Marco Donadel’s low pass inside the far post.

It was the 37-year-old Ivorian’s 11th goal in as many MLS games since joining the Impact in the summer.

“We have to do better, obviously,” said Drogba. “The first half was not good, but I liked the reaction we had in the second half.”

Moments later, Piatti hit the crossbar, but Toronto’s Michael Bradley did the same with the equalizer on his boot in the 74th.

After the match, MLS announced that Giovinco has won the 2015 Audi Golden Boot as the league’s top goal scorer. The 28-year-old Italian made 33 appearances this season and set a new league record by scoring 22 goals and adding 16 assists, breaking Chris Wondolowski’s previous mark of 27 goals and 7 assists in 2012.

Columbus Crew SC’s Kei Kamara also scored 22 goals, but Giovinco earned the tiebreaker with his 16 assists.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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