It may not be a paradox of “Doctor Who” proportions, but former local standout Donny Toia finds himself working his way up while working his way back.
His journey up the soccer ladder included stops at Canyon del Oro High School, Tucson Soccer Academy, Pima College, FC Tucson and Phoenix FC. Now he’s at the top rung of the American game, trying to make the roster of Major League Soccer club Chivas USA.
While making that trek, he’s drifted back on the field — from forward to midfielder to defender, and played all 90 minutes at left back in Chivas USA’s scoreless draw with the Colorado Rapids in the opening match of Wednesday’s FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup tripleheader. In the other matches, the New England Revolution defeated the Chicago Fire 1-0 on a second-half stoppage time goal, and in the nightcap, Real Salt Lake defeated FC Tucson 3-1 before 755 at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium.
In 2012, Toia was one of FC Tucson’s main scoring threats. He helped the club make the playoffs by netting eight goals in 20 matches. Last year, he accounted for six goals in 24 matches for a Phoenix FC team that struggled in the USL Pro.
Now, his focus is on stopping the kind of players who put up those numbers.
“Obviously, the transition from forward to left midfield to left back is a little bit of a transition,” Toia said. “It’s not bad. I like defending. I have no problem with it.”
In Wednesday’s match, he smothered a few potential fires and had one moment in the first half when he used his breakneck speed to track down Colorado forward Charles Eloundou and blast the ball away before Eloundou could wind up and fire.
Chivas USA coach Wilmer Cabrera likes that hustle and spirit.
“He has an excellent attitude, very humble,” the first-year coach said. “He’s ready to learn. He pays attention.
“Donny is getting better. He needs to learn a lot of things — his positioning, his tactics. He needs to calm down and deliver the ball better, but it’s all normal because he’s only played in one game since we’ve been here.”
Toia was slowed by an ankle injury earlier in the preseason.
“I sprained the ligaments on the inside and outside,” said Toia, 21, who had a boisterous contingent of relatives and friends rooting him on Wednesday. “Supposedly, it’s pretty rare to do that. I basically took a week off and did a lot of treatment. It’s been doing a lot better.”
In the second half, Toia had a chance on his old familiar end. He received a free kick near the far byline and launched a ball into the box before it sailed over the goal.
He says being used in the charging-out-of-back role hasn’t been a part of the job descripton so far.
“They haven’t talked to me about that yet, but it’s still in the preseason,” Toia said. “To be honest with you, I hit that pretty bad. But you live and you learn.”
The scoreless draw in Wednesday’s first match between Chivas USA and Colorado meant that the Fire will face the Chivas Guadalajara reserve team in Saturday’s 6 p.m. final. Entering Wednesday’s action, Chivas USA (four points out of the first two matches) was the only team that could catch Chicago (six points), according to the tiebreakers being used. Chivas USA needed to defeat Colorado to force Chicago (six points) to get a result in Wednesday’s second match. The Chivas Guadalajara reserves replace FC Tucson, which finished with a draw and two losses in the event. Real Salt Lake will face Chivas USA in the opening match Saturday at 1 p.m., while New England will take on Colorado in the 3:30 contest.
Wednesday’s final match was clearly the most entertaining of the day, with Real Salt Lake scoring three times in the first half, including two headers off free kicks. Three excellent saves by FC Tucson goalkeepeer Michael D’Arrigo kept Real Salt Lake from breaking the game open in the first 45 minutes. FC Tucson pulled one back in the 59th minute when Dan Antoniuk, who has played for 14 clubs in his 16-year career, scored on an assist from Saeed Robinson. Robinson had a chance to pull FC Tucson within one, but his shot with only the keeper to beat slid just wide of the far post in the 78th minute.
In the second match Wednesday, former UCLA product Kelyn Rowe scored on a ball from Diego Fagundez in the 91st minute to give New England the victory. Rowe had seven goals and eight assists for the Revolution last season.
Another former FC Tucson stalwart, Aaron Long, signed with the Portland Timbers on Tuesday. Long, who played in each of FC Tucson’s first three seasons, was training with Portland as a non-roster midfielder before making the team.