For the Montreal Impact ,the start of the 2015 season has really been a mixed bag events and results. So far we have seen Nigel Reo-Coker unofficially supplant fan favorite and local hero Patrice Bernier as captain. We witnessed Cameron Porter's last minute heroic goal in CCL play that propelled him to rock star status in the city.
In the process he also leap frogged over Jack McInerney and Romario Williams as the first choice striker with his never quit work rate. Unfortunately, for fans and the club the Impact have now lost both Justin Mapp and Porter to long term injuries. With these events fresh on the minds of fans I felt it was the right time to try and focus on something more positive.
This past off-season when the news broke that the Montreal Impact had traded away fan-favorite Felipe Martins to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for midfielder Eric Alexander and defender Ambroise Oyongo, most fans were excited at the thought that the team hand finally found that elusive left back. The young, up and coming, Cameroonian international showed a lot of promise with the Red Bulls last year, and the Impact could not go into another season with Polish defender Krzysztof Krol manning that spot.
As we all know, Oyongo had other ideas and never showed up, and has since been suspended by the club. It is hard to envision any scenario, where Oyongo could mend the fences he has broken and come back to the MLS and wear the Blue Blanc Noir.
It is hard to say how it would have played out if Oyongo was here but with his absence the team has appeared to have found a gem in 22 year old Donny Toia. His solid play so far this year has many fans forgetting or not caring about what ever comes of the Oyongo deal.
The Toia Effect
For those who don't remember, Donny Toia was picked up by the Impact with the 6th pick of the Chivas USA dispersal draft last November. With Montreal's new look defense centered around veteran new comers Belgian international Laurent Ciman and Malian Bakary Soumare, it is understandable that Toia's presence has flown under the radar so far.
When he was first picked up by the club, the one thing that stood out for me was that for a your guy, he was given a lot of playing time, and he seemed to be very disciplined. To be able to feature in 2,240 minutes over 27 games and only be on the receiving end of a total of 5 yellow cards to me is very impressive. The few number of cautions collected was also reassuring for me because the team already had Camara and Baky Soumare who both have a history of being carded on a regular basis.
With all the hype surrounding the Impact's aim at CCL glory and a reversal of fortunes from last season in MLS play the last thing they needed was to have a revolving door on defense because of player discipline. The good news for Klopas is that Soumare looks to be very disciplined so far and is proving to be a solid pick up. Unfortunately, Camara is picking up right where he left off last year and is already suspended for Montreal's home opener against Kaka and his visiting OCSC. Camara's situation is topic for another discussion, back to Toia!
Fast and Furious
Toia has played in every game so far this season (CCL and MLS) and has not looked out of place in the least. Yes, he has made some mistakes, but he definitely has proven that he can hold his own out there. He reads the play well and does a lot of the little things right. His crosses are usually right on point or at the very least not completely off the mark.
Another aspect of his game that is very impressive to me is his speed over the first 10 yards or so. He is so powerful that even if the defender gets a step or two on him he is able to recover and make a play. I love the fact that he does not panic and make rash decisions that could have a negative effect on the club. Even CCL opponent Pachuca seemed to notice that Toia was not the weak link on defense as they opted to concentrate on pounding Cabrera's side of the field.
Surely, it must help to have a leader like Ciman playing beside him, but until he proves me wrong he belongs on the field and has earned first choice selection in my books. Toia has not been putting Ciman in bad situations or forcing him to cover up countless mistakes. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that Ciman is comfortable venturing higher up the field because he knows that if need be Soumare and Toia are there to tidy up.
While his play is not flawless and he still has areas to work on to improve his game it appears as though his progress is heading in the right directions and with solid veterans around him to help guide and mold him, it give Impact fans something to be excited about.
For me, Toia's play has been quite the treat and I look forward to watching him take his game to the next level!