Donny Toia has not spent long in a purple jersey, but he has made an enormous impact on Orlando City’s defensive efforts in 2017. The 25-year-old fullback has been a staple in the Lions’ lineup this season, starting 18 matches and doubling his career assist total since acquired in a trade with Atlanta United in the winter.
Toia isn’t the type of fullback that dominates the modern game on both ends like Scott Sutter or Rafael Ramos or PC. The other three relish going forward, getting involved in the attack, whipping in crosses or overlapping with the midfielders. Not Donny. The journeyman left back is almost the antithesis of that — though he has been known to put in a wicked cross from time to time — staying at home and doing the dirty work of defending.
He’s not the quickest, which caused him some problems against the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City, but he understands how to read the game and defend in solo situations. For a Lions side that has leaked goals over the last two seasons, it’s a welcome sight to see a fullback that wins his duels more often than not.
It’s easy to point to Jonathan Spector as the cornerstone of the new-look Lions defense, but the former Birmingham City man might not be the biggest upgrade along the back line. Toia took charge in a position that had been a relative failure since the club moved up to MLS. After the Brek Shea experiment failed and Luke Boden proved that being a great USL fullback doesn’t necessarily translate into MLS-readiness, the Lions were lost on the left side. Both Shea and Boden were fullbacks in the mold of Sutter, intended to bomb up the pitch and join in the attack. And even though Toia hasn’t fit the trend in the league, he’s been far more effective than some of his counterparts.
Against Atlanta in the 1-1 draw, Donny was phenomenal and shut down Julian Gressel, Brandon Vazquez, Hector Villalba, and Anton Walkes in turn. It was one of his best performances of the season, primarily in solo situations, and illustrated just how far Orlando City has come on defense. Toia has been putting in shifts like that all season long — with a few poor performances marring an otherwise solid season — and has kept the left flank secure. Toia has revitalized the left back position for Orlando in stark contrast to his spell in Quebec, where he was phased out of the first team by Ambroise Oyongo. The Impact left him exposed in the recent Expansion Draft, considering him surplus to requirements even if forced to do so, and Toia was able to find a new home with an old coach in Orlando.
“It’ll be interesting,” Toia told OrlandoCitySC.com about his return after his stint in Montreal. “Obviously, I played there for two years and got to know some of the guys pretty well, so it’ll be good to see them and hopefully get a result there too.”
Toia will have a chance to show the Impact what they gave up on Saturday, when he goes up against his former club.