TORONTO — The spotlight on midfielder Julian de Guzman will shine as brightly as ever this season, and it has to do with more than just his status as the first designated player in Toronto FC history.
De Guzman will be counted on to use his international experience with both club and country to be a leader in the middle and bring along the team’s younger players.
Although still a relative newcomer to MLS himself, de Guzman is ready for the responsibility.
“I know that I have a lot under my belt in terms of experience overseas, so I definitely expect to live up to this role, fitting into the team and getting other guys involved,” said de Guzman, who spent nine years playing in Europe. “Although impact players such as [Amado] Guevara, [Pablo] Vitti and [Carl] Robinson are no longer here, we have a lot of young guys who have good potential to fill these shoes.”
Last season, he was one piece of a veteran midfield that included Robinson and Guevara. With their departure, along with that of Argentine Vitti, the Toronto native has been thrust into a position where he’ll have to lead by example.
In the club’s season opener in Columbus, de Guzman lined up with second-year players Sam Cronin, 23, and Gabe Gala, 20, and newcomer Martin Saric.
“From my experience as a young player, it’s pretty much similar to what they’re going through right now,” de Guzman said. “it’s all about getting the experience and playing time and at the same time learning from the guys who do have more years under their belt. So I’m willing to show them as much as I can and the rest is up to them; and so far they’ve done well.”
Toronto FC made the hometown native its first designated player in team history after a lengthy courtship process, signing him in September to a three-year deal. Prior to joining TFC, the 29-year-old starred for Spain’s Deportivo La Coruña.
He has been a stalwart in the middle for Canada, and his development is credited for the national team’s overall improved play over the last three years. In 2007, he was named the Most Valuable Player at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and followed that up with a place on the Gold Cup all-star team in 2009.
De Guzman isn’t the vocal type, preferring to let his solid holding play in the middle do the talking. Time and again in Gold Cup matches, Canada’s midfield general has shown a deft ability to hold the ball and find his teammates, while stripping opposing midfielders of the ball.
That will benefit a TFC club that has seemingly lacked offensive execution and timely goal scoring since its inception.
“It’s a process," TFC coach Preki said. "We have quite few new guys in the midfield and hopefully the longer we go and the longer the season goes we get better in that area, because that’s the area where you certainly win and lose games. A lot of people think that it’s the defense or the attack, but it’s actually the midfield that orchestrates everything.”
Besides setting up teammates, de Guzman has also shown an ability to score the odd goal, sometimes in highlight-reel fashion. That should take some of the pressure off of attacking midfielder Dwayne De Rosario and second-year striker O’Brian White.
“It comes down to the system and the formation and what the coach wants,” said de Guzman. “I’ll have a better understanding the more games we play, but I enjoy playing defense and also getting forward.”
Preki feels de Guzman’s two-way game will play a vital role as the season progresses.
“Julian is experienced and is a good player,” the coach said. “He’ll make sure everybody around him understands how he plays and he also will make sure that everybody is in good position and that we are disciplined and stay where we need to be in the game.”