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Drogba's absence forces Shipp to wing

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Without a strong central figure in Didier Drogba, Mauro Biello was forced to deviate from what Impact fans were assuming was the plan to keep Ignacio Piatti on the left side of the field this season.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Impact fans learned on Sunday that the lack of Didier Drogba in the lineup has more far-reaching effects than they had originally thought.

Head coach Mauro Biello decided that Dominic Oduro would be the lone starting forward at BC Place against Vancouver, but that it wouldn't be as simple as a straight exchange for Drogba. The attacking trio behind Oduro was:

Shipp     Piatti     Ontivero

This was different from the formation Impact fans were waiting to see which included Ignacio Piatti on the left side of the field supposedly facilitated by Harry Shipp's arrival. Impact supporters have long craved for a central attacking midfielder (CAM) of consequence who could allow Piatti to shift to the left where he seems more comfortable, can run at defenders, and can focus less on defensive play. Shipp was supposed to be that guy.

And by all accounts he still will be.

But the curious flipping of Piatti and Shipp may indicate Biello's desire to have the most important parts of his lineup form the spine of the formation. Likely deciding that Piatti is an overall superior player to Shipp, Biello decided to put him in a position on the field where he can have the most influence. Piatti's tremendous game is a testament to that good decision.

If Drogba were in the lineup, we can speculate that Biello would have followed through on the hints he gave us during the pre-season that Shipp would have been the man at the CAM position. This is because Drogba could have provided the clout and weight Biello probably desires in the middle of the pitch. In short, Drogba is talented enough to let Piatti's talent play on the left, but other options at forward require his influence in the middle of the pitch.

But the opportunity cost to keeping Piatti in the middle of the pitch was watching Shipp be mostly inconsequential for the larger part of the match. It's easy to agree that Piatti is an exceptional CAM, but it's also easy to build an argument that the Impact, overall, are a better team with Piatti on the left and Shipp in the middle.

Otherwise said, Piatti may be a better CAM than Shipp, but a combination which has Piatti on the left and Shipp on the right is better overall.

To be completely fair, however, a finer viewing of the game on Sunday would have revealed that Shipp and Piatti sometimes shifted positions - a fact suggesting that the midfield is more fluid than I have portrayed it here. Similarly, both of Piatti's goals were scored from the left-ish side.

In any case, Impact fans should expect Piatti on the left side of the field when Drogba is in the lineup. That means possibly as early as March 19th in Dallas.

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What do you think the Impact's midfield should look like when Didier Drogba isn't in the lineup?