Matteo Mancosu replaced Didier Drogba and is now a Montreal Impact playoff star

Matteo Mancosu is the Montreal Impact’s playoff hero. That is the same Mancosu who wasn’t even with the club four months ago, and who was most known for being the man that took Didier Drogba’s spot in the starting lineup. But the Italian followed up a brace in the Impact’s opening playoff match with the only goal in their second postseason contest, and right now, no star in Montreal is burning brighter.

Mancosu has had a strange career. He toiled away in the Italian lower leagues before making his Serie A debut at 30 years old. He only lasted 18 months there before being loaned to the Montreal Impact in July and nobody really took notice. After all, why would anyone care much about a journeyman who joined a midtable team, presumably to come off the bench?

But at this point in the postseason, with the Impact just 90 minutes away from the Eastern Conference final, there might not be a Montreal player more important than Mancosu.

That’s shocking not just because he’s Matteo Mancosu, a player who no one expected much from when he signed. More than anything, it’s because to get into the starting lineup, he had to push Didier Drogba out. And push Drogba out he did.

There has been plenty of talk about Drogba and his role with the Impact as the season wound down. He was benched and refused to play, drawing headlines. Then he was left out of the team and people speculated whether it was actually an injury, like the club said, or if Drogba and club simply agreed to diffuse the situation for a player who wasn’t going to start. Even now, he’s back in training, but nobody expects him to start. All of the talk is about Drogba. But really, Mancosu has as much, if not more, to do with with all of this.

Drogba didn’t get dropped because he was bad. He scored 10 goals and added six assists this season. We’re just a year removed from his addition completely changing the Impact and sending them surging up the table. For him to be displaced, someone to to provide some of the things Drogba did — no small feat — and more.

Enter: Mancosu.

The Italian’s mobility has been a boon to the Impact. He can slide out wide and run in from there, push defenses with runs over the top and, maybe more than anything, help the team defensively. His pressing up top makes it easier for Montreal to force turnovers, dictate where the match is played and break up any of their opponents’ tempo.

Combine all of that with the goals he’s scoring and the Impact are flying high. His two goals paced Montreal in their thumping of D.C. United in the knockout round. Then against the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of their conference semifinal, his goal was the difference in the 1-0 result.

Now the Impact go to New York hoping to protect their one-goal lead and keep their season alive. Mancosu is why they have that lead and he’s their best hope for keeping it. His pace makes them a threat on the counterattack, which is the best way to beat the Red Bulls, and he stretches the field against a team that makes its bones on compressing the pitch.

That has nothing to do with Drogba, except that the Ivorian had to make way for Mancosu. It’s all down to the Italian and what he brings to the table. The journeyman who joined the Impact with little fanfare, and the man who could put them in their first ever Eastern Conference final.