Donny Toia entered his second season with Orlando City in a battle for the starting left back position — a spot he nailed down to the tune of 30 appearances and 29 starts in 2017. Acquired from Atlanta United in December of 2016 for a first-round SuperDraft pick, Toia provided the defensive stability the Lions lacked at left back for their first two years in MLS but the veteran wasn’t able to get forward much to help with the attack. As a result, Orlando went out and signed Mohamed El-Munir this past off-season.
Last year, due mainly to providing consistent coverage on the left side, we gave Toia a season rating of 6 for his first season in purple. His 2018 season was a lot quieter.
Toia appeared in only four MLS matches in 2018, including three starts, totaling just 238 minutes — one season removed from playing more than 2,500 minutes. Much of the year he didn’t even dress for the 18. He provided no goals but did have an assist, attempting one shot that was off target. He was an 80% passer with one chance created and defensively he averaged 1.5 tackles, 0.8 interceptions, and 1.8 clearances without a blocked shot. Toia stayed out of the referees’ books in 2018, drawing neither a yellow nor a red card.
He also appeared in one U.S. Open Cup match on July 18 at the Philadelphia Union. He played the full 90 minutes at right back — instead of his usual left back spot — in the match, attempting one shot and committing a foul in the 1-0 road loss. Toia completed 84% of his passes in the match and finished with one tackle, one interception, four recoveries, and three clearances.
It’s tempting to pick the only game the Lions won with Toia in the lineup in this section, but he only played 13 minutes off the bench in the July 14 win over Toronto FC. Orlando City lost the other three MLS games and the U.S. Open Cup game in which Toia started and only one of them was close. The 1-0 loss to Philadelphia in USOC play was the only one-goal game in the bunch, with lopsided shutout losses at home to Montreal (2-0) and on the road to New York City FC (3-0). I’m going to pick the remaining game — a 4-1 loss at Los Angeles FC.
Toia assisted on the lone Orlando City goal in the match — well, the only Orlando City goal in the match that ended up counting, anyhow — rating a score of 6 from the bearded guy in our player grades for the match. He attempted one shot in the match, passed at a 74% rate, notching one key pass and an assist on a long through ball for Sacha Kljestan’s cool finish to make it 2-1 at the time.
Sure, it helped that Walker Zimmerman slipped on the play, but that takes nothing away from Toia’s lovely, perfectly weighted ball for Kljestan to run onto. With 58 touches on the night, he was the more active fullback for Orlando in the match. The Lions’ back line struggled quite a bit in that game but Toia led all Orlando defenders in tackles (2) and interceptions (3, tied with Amro Tarek), and he was just behind Tarek with three clearances to the center back’s four. You may recall that the game was still 0-0 when Jonathan Spector left with an injury in the 25th minute and was replaced by Chris Schuler. The back line took a while to settle in after the substitution but, by the time it did, it was 2-0. LAFC tacked on two late goals after Dom Dwyer’s apparent tying strike was disallowed. You can’t say anyone on the team played particularly great soccer that night, but Toia was the most solid piece along the back line and in a limited number of appearances, and a lack of opportunities to find any rhythm this season, his assist pushes this performance to the top of his 2018 list for me.
2018 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff give Toia an incomplete grade for the 2018 season. With fewer than 250 minutes under his belt, he simply didn’t see enough of the field to warrant a rating for the season. Toia gives reliably quiet, steady performances and it was clear in 2018 that Jason Kreis and James O’Connor were looking for more from the left back position. They opted to live with El-Munir’s periodic defensive lapses and turnovers to get more creativity going forward, more pace, and more crosses from the left side. We perhaps should have seen more of Toia on the right side while Scott Sutter was out with injury, but it just never materialized and the journeyman found himself on the outside of position battles, looking in.
Toia is under contract through next season according to Transfermarkt. Assuming that’s true, the Lions would do well to try to find the Arizona native a new home for 2019. At $125,000 per year, Toia isn’t that expensive and provides quality depth. He was a bargain playing 30 games in 2017, but he’s too expensive for only four appearances a year. He’s still in the prime of his career at age 26. If the plan is to play a defensive-oriented four-man back line, Toia is a solid guy to have on your roster. However, if O’Connor wants more dynamic players on the outside, either at fullback or wingback (and likely a combination of the two for flexibility in shape), he’s a bit of a square peg for a round hole. The Lions may opt to try to find a transfer for Toia this off-season but at his salary it wouldn’t be the end of the world to have him providing depth at outside back.