MONTREAL — Designated players Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti and fullback Hassoun Camara are all fit to play for the Montreal Impact, much to the relief of new coach Mauro Biello.
All three are returning from injury and will be available as the seventh-place Impact (8-11-4) play host to the ninth-place Chicago Fire (7-13-6) at Saputo Stadium on Saturday night.
How much action Drogba and Piatti will see is up to Biello, who replaced the fired Frank Klopas this week and will work his first game as interim head coach.
“I haven’t slept in four days,” Biello said Friday.
Joking aside, the Montreal native and former Impact star has serious roster issues to resolve with central defenders Laurent Ciman (national team duty with Belgium) and Victor Cabrera (one-game suspension) out of the lineup.
They are also missing midfielder Johan Venegas (Costa Rica) and fullbacks Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon) and Eric Miller (U.S. under-23), as well as two Canadians, midfielder Kyle Bekker and third-string goalie Maxime Crepeau, to international duty.
That’s why the return of Drogba, the imposing striker from Ivory Coast, top playmaking midfielder Piatti and Camara was a relief for Biello.
His club is coming off a dreadful August that cost second-year coach Klopas his job.
It started off with a promising 3-2 win at New York City, but the Impact then went six games without a victory, including two losses to Vancouver in the Voyageurs Cup final and 1-0 losses at home to D.C. United and Philadelphia. They are coming off a 2-1 defeat in Toronto last Saturday.
Although they still have games in hand over most rivals, including three on Chicago, the Impact slipped out of a playoff position and now lead both Chicago and last-place Philadelphia by only one point.
“We know it’s pretty much a must win,” said midfielder Justin Mapp. “We have five home games left and we need to at least get all of those points to make a push.”
The Fire, with a win and a draw in their last two league outings, will be missing Ghanian forward David Accam, American midfielder Matt Polster and Trinidadian fullback Joevin Jones to their national sides.
Biello hoped to inject confidence and enthusiasm in a team that had gone flat under Klopas.
“Everyone’s looking at it as a fresh start,” said Mapp. “There’s a good vibe in the locker room.
“It was a pretty wild, disappointing last week. We put that behind us.”
They also need to find an answer to visiting teams that play in a defensive shell and then try to grab a lead with quick counterattacks, as D.C. and Philadelphia did.
“We want to play but we have to be smart defensively not to let in that famous goal so the other team can sit on it,” said Wandrille Lefevre, who will be on the hotseat in the central defence with Ciman and Cabrera out.
The attacking skills of Drogba and Piatti may help solve that problem.
Drogba made his Impact debut Aug. 22, playing 31 minutes against Philadelphia, then missed two games with a sore toe. Piatti has been out since Aug. 8 with a calf injury, while Camara has missed most of the season with a leg ailment.
“There’s a combination of factors that we’ll use as motivation,” said Lefevre. “Mauro being named coach is no doubt an extra motivation.
“We want to get him his first win as coach and we want to get the three points as well.”
Cabrera was suspended for a siding tackle from behind on Toronto’s Jozy Altidore. TFC’s Collen Warner was suspended two games for a nasty takedown of Montreal’s Dominic Oduro in the same game.