MONTREAL — Didier Drogba turned toward the crowd to savor the moment.
It was the 71st minute of Tuesday’s opening leg of the Eastern Conference final between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, and the 61,104 fans at Olympic Stadium were cheering the Ivorian’s entrance into the game, which ended 3-2 in favor of the home side.
The fans might not have known it yet, but it would be the last time they would see the Ivorian in Montreal, as Drogba told reporters after the game he will be leaving the club when his contract expires in December.
"My contract ends at the end of the season and I won’t be returning," said Drogba, who was given a special farewell tribute on the field after the game. "I want to end things well, out of respect for everything the people here, the city, have given me. I was disappointed with the result, but we will do everything to qualify to the final. I don’t think the adventure will end in Toronto."
Impact captain Patrice Bernier, who learned earlier Tuesday that Drogba wouldn’t be returning, praised the 38-year-old for his influence on the team since his arrival last summer.
"Didier brought so much on the field, off the field, with his leadership and experience and he brought a human factor as well," Bernier said. "It was great to get to know him more. I was happy the club honored him after the game. But it’s not over yet — there’s still one or maybe two games to play."
Happy with what he has been able to accomplish with the Impact during his short stay, Drogba hopes they can go one step further and reach the MLS Cup final with a positive result next week in Toronto.
"I had one and a half years of good emotions. I think we made history," Drogba said. "And when I came I here for the first time, last season we played against Columbus in the semifinal and this year we’re in the conference final, so it’s a good progress.
"I’m quite happy with the way things are going and I think I kind of reached the target, but there’s still more work to do. There’s still 90 minutes to play and a lot of things will happen in those 90 minutes. I hope we’re going to be happy by the end of it."