MONTREAL — Star power should be the main attraction of a match between the Montreal Impact and New York City, but it is unclear how many big names will be on the field when they meet Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
Striker Didier Drogba made his first start of the season in a 2-0 loss at home to Toronto FC on the weekend, but with the Impact in a run of three games in eight days, coach Mauro Biello may elect to use the 38-year-old off the bench and save him for a home game Saturday against Colorado.
"Didier played 90 minutes and felt great," Biello said. "It's about getting his rhythm and being ready for us going forward."
Injured striker Frank Lampard, held to only 10 games as a Major League Soccer newcomer last year, has yet to play for NYC this season, while Italian midfield general Andre Pirlo was benched for a 2-0 loss in Philadelphia on Saturday.
The only consistent performer of NYC's three high profile designated players has been Spaniard David Villa, who has four goals in seven games.
Montreal (4-3-0) has a share of first place in the Eastern Conference while NYC (1-3-3) shares last spot with Chicago and the New York Red Bulls. NYC is 0-1-3 at home and is winless overall since a season-opening victory over Chicago.
If form holds, it will be a showdown between Villa and Montreal's Ignacio Piatti. NYC won two of three meetings between the clubs last season, with Villa scoring four times and Piatti three. Each leads his team with four goals this season.
Pirlo, the uncanny passer who won two UEFA Champions League trophies and six Serie-A titles with A.C. Milan and Juventus, played the first six games but then was abruptly left off high-profile new coach Patrick Vieira's squad in Philadelphia.
Impact veteran Marco Donadel hopes to face Pirlo. The two play a similar game at the back of the midfield, distributing balls. Both take dead ball kicks. However, 33-year-old Donadel's resume is decidedly modest compared to Pirlo, who has 116 Italy caps.
"I try to see Pirlo when he's playing on TV, or on video on YouTube," said Donadel. "For me, it's an idol, like a fan.
"He's the best midfielder in the world because of his technique, his way to play. He tries to see and understand the action 30 seconds before the others. It's a bit harder now because he's 36, but in 90 minutes he can do a play and resolve the match, so we have to be very scared of him. Every time, see where is Pirlo because he can decide the match."
Playing at Yankee Stadium, where an unusually narrow pitch is squeezed onto the baseball field, is an event in itself, although the Impact won 3-2 on their last visit on Aug. 1. Also, the turf laid atop the base paths is inconsistent with the outfield grass.
"It's worse to play on (artificial) turf, like Olympic Stadium, for the other teams," said Donadel. "We're used to playing there but it's tough for the other teams."
Midfielder Harry Shipp said the Impact will need to adjust, but shouldn't be overly concerned about the setting.
"The sight lines are definitively a little weird and the field seems pretty small when you're on it, but the grass is fine and soccer's soccer," said Shipp. "You can't put too much into it or it's going to play right into what they want you to think.
"I notice the length less than the width. Everyone's kind of closer in the middle and things seem a little chaotic, so sometimes you have to make an effort to slow things down and try to create extra time for yourself."
With another match coming Saturday, there will be lineup changes. Fullbacks Hassoun Camara, who left 20 minutes into the TFC match, and Donny Toia are both out with hamstring injuries, so Maxim Tissot could get his first start. Midfielders Patrice Bernier, Johan Venegas and Lucas Ontivero could also see action.
"It's a chance to test our depth," said Biello.
Bill Beacon , The Canadian Press