MLS in Focus: Montreal’s Donny Toia

Image, MLSsoccer.com

by RYAN BRISTER

The last time I wrote about the Montreal Impact, I mentioned that they’d need to make the playoffs in order to regain the attention of fans south of the U.S.-Canada border. As it turns out, signing Didier Drogba is an attention-grabbing move and the Impact are in great position to make the playoffs for the second time in their MLS history.

One of the reasons for their success is a defense that is among the stingiest in the Eastern Conference. Their back line has benefited from the experience of Laurent Ciman and Nigel Reo-Coker over the course of the season, but also from the 23-year-old left back Donny Toia.

Toia is one of the few homegrown players in MLS playing for a club other than the one he came up with. Toia, a Tuscon, AZ native, was the first homegrown player signed by Real Salt Lake in 2011. But he never appeared for RSL, and made his MLS debut instead for Chivas USA last season. He established himself in an unfamiliar position as the team’s starting left back, and Montreal picked him up in the dispersal draft. Of the eight players taken from Chivas USA, Toia’s impact with his new club is rivaled only by Dan Kennedy and Tommy McNamara.



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You might recall that in the offseason, the Impact traded for Ambroise Oyongo. who played left back in New York. But Oyongo’s early-season absence opened the door for Toia, who made the position his own with dogged defending. Toia has started 21 of Montreal’s 26 MLS games this year, and all six of their CONCACAF Champions League matches back in the spring.

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On Saturday, Toia faced one of his toughest challenges yet, pitted against Gyasi Zardes on the wing. Against a USMNT regular, Toia did well, limiting Zardes’ influence on the match.

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Watch how Toia closes the space between him and Zardes before the ball arrives. In doing so, he assures that even if Zardes can get by him, he’ll have to go backwards and away from the most dangerous parts of the field.

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Montreal asks very little from its fullbacks going forward; almost all of their attacking is done by its front four players. When that front four features Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti, this is a viable strategy. While Toia was a forward as a youth player, he rarely joins the attack for the Impact.

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As he develops, Toia will need to add more of the above to his game to meet the demands of the modern fullback. He’s completed just a handful of crosses this season.


 

Toia played for the U.S. national team at the U-18 and U-20 levels. Though left back is a position of weakness for the senior USMNT, there are (as Jurgen Klinsmann would say) others ahead of him. Given time, and more solid defending like he’s displayed in Montreal, Toia might just emerge as a serious contender for that job.