Part of Major League Soccer's aim with its Designated Player rule was to afford its clubs the ability to attract superstar players, which would, in turn, bring more notoriety to a growing league both on and off the pitch. In Orlando City's Kaká, MLS has a home run superstar who took hardly any time at all to stake his claim as one of the most important DPs in league history.
Kaká's global appeal as a former FIFA World Player of the Year and multi-lingual ability have made him one of the most prominent faces of the league, as was evidenced by his week-long media parade leading up to July's MLS All-Star Game. Ricky's nine-goal, seven-assist output in league play has helped the league improve the on-field quality of play while his off-field appeal has helped further the popularity of the league in general.
In Drogba, the league has another global star who has immediately paid dividends on the field by scoring seven goals to go along with one assist in only six matches for Montreal. While he may not have quite the reach of Kaká as a marketing piece for the league, Drogba certainly brings the on-pitch credentials and adds another rare non-European, marquee DP that is a hero of the sport in his own right.
"He's been an iconic player for the last 20 years," Orlando City manager Adrian Heath said of Drogba this week.
Drogba, a native of the Ivory Coast, brings league appeal to Africa, and he is also beloved in countries such as England and Turkey, where he played for large European clubs like Chelsea and Galatasaray. While Orlando and Montreal don't get the love from the league that cities such as New York and Los Angeles do, there is no pairing of global stars across the league bigger than the one we could see tonight if Drogba is in the lineup for Impact.
Combining the star power with the playoff implications for both clubs -- especially Orlando -- could mean another huge crowd at the Citrus Bowl this weekend, and the on-the-pitch ramifications of Drogba's potential inclusion for Montreal could be game-changing for Heath and OCSC.
Drogba's physical prowess at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds has made him a terror for opposing center backs for years, and the task at hand for OCSC's Aurélien Collin and David Mateos will be much different if Drogba does start at center forward for Montreal. Drogba is adept in hold-up play with his back to the goal, has the strength to bully defenders and is a great aerial finisher, as well as a set piece threat.
City will need to be especially aware of the big Ivorian's ability to get on the end of balls in the box when Montreal's wide players like Dominic Oduro are in possession in the attacking third.
"Didier Drogba is one of the best players you'll see at attacking the ball in the box when the ball goes wide," Heath said Tuesday. "[Montreal] have put more crosses in since Drogba's been here than they've done nearly all season. So they've obviously worked on getting the ball in nice and early, and Drogba getting on the end of it."
Orlando's defenders will have to close Drogba down when the ball is played wide to limit his ability to make runs at goal. This is all if he plays, of course, despite the turf surface featured in Orlando.
Many Orlando City fans (widely) would probably rather see Drogba sit this one out to give the Lions an easier job at the back in a pivotal game. For the sake of excitement and league visibility, though, it couldn't get much bigger than Kaká vs. Drogba for MLS, especially with postseason hopes on the line.