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New Look Lion: An Examination of New Orlando City Defender Donny Toia

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How does Donny Toia fit into Jason Kreis’ back line?

MLS: Orlando City SC at Montreal Impact
Donny Toia in action against his new club.
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City turned in a nice bit of business in yesterday’s MLS Expansion Draft. Let’s take a closer look at Orlando City’s newest Lion, Donny Toia.

How the Move Went Down

Yesterday was a busy day for MLS with clubs and fans closely watching the action of the Expansion Draft. After losing Mikey Ambrose in the Expansion Draft to Atlanta United, Orlando picked up Donny Toia from Atlanta in exchange for Orlando’s first-round pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. It was rumored that Atlanta had trades set up before yesterday’s draft began, and taking Toia with the first pick and sending him to Orlando seemed to confirm those reports. You can read the full report of the transaction here.

How Does Donny Toia Help Orlando?

Donny Toia arrived from Atlanta, but for the last two seasons he has been an important part of the Montreal Impact’s defense. Even in an injury-shortened 2016 season, Toia still made 17 appearances and 15 starts. 2015 was Toia’s best professional season statistically, with 31 games played and 29 starts. Toia played a larger role in the Impact’s 2015 playoff run and the CONCACAF Champions League run, which ended in that painful loss to Club América of Mexico.

If the season started today, Toia is an easy pick to start at the left back position in Jason Kreis’ flat back four. With Orlando’s recent off-season moves, the team has five MLS-experienced defenders on its roster if Jose Aja’s stay in Orlando is extended — six if you count Brek Shea. Plus, in Toia, Orlando is getting an upgrade at left back after declining Luke Boden’s option and losing Ambrose.

Toia is more of a defense-first style back than the bombing forward type. At Montreal, Toia had the luxury of playing behind Ignacio Piatti. So Toia was not expected to fly down the flanks to create opportunities going forward with the Argentine doing his thing on the left side of the attack. Expect Toia’s role at Orlando to be very similar, with Kaká’s preference of drifting to the left flank or Brek Shea’s attacking ability from the left.

Since Orlando is not looking to overload the attacking third with backs pushing forward, Toia looks like a good fit for a team trying to find a defensive identity. Toia is a disciplined back who will look to stay with the defensive unit. Since he won’t be relied upon to get forward, Toia can afford to stay connected to other defenders in the back, resulting in fewer opportunities to be caught out of position after a loss of possession. Many of the goals Orlando conceded this season resulted from the back line getting stretched after a loss of possession. Those turnovers forced defenders to lose the defensive shape as they scrambled to pressure the ball. The addition of Toia brings more stability to left back for Orlando.

More Moves to Come?

Orlando will continue to look for more cover in the back this off-season with only four returning defenders at this point. It would not be surprising to see at least three more defenders brought in to try and shore up Orlando’s defensive gaps. That said, City still has a lot of emerging talent in defense on its roster. But, MLS-experienced additions like Toia would help with the development of younger players as well increasing competition for starting positions.

If healthy, expect Toia to be a regular at LB for Orlando this upcoming season.