February 14, 2012
Reds play wait and see with de Guzman
By KURT LARSON, QMI Agency
Flanked by then general manager Mo Johnston and interim head coach Chris Cummins, Julian de Guzman referred to his MLS move as “a dream come true” after signing a multiple year contract in September of 2009.
“Now I have new plans and new goals with Toronto FC,” he said, when asked about his decision to forgo European offers after a press conference announcing his arrival. “I’m looking forward to this.”
The CBC would make a case for the then 28-year-old potentially becoming the league’s “best ever” designated player — an ambitious, but somewhat legitimate, argument that ended up falling short of the lofty expectations thrust upon his shoulders.
Said to be peaking following a host of quality seasons with Spain’s Deportivo La Coruna, de Guzman prematurely symbolized a turning point that wouldn’t arrive until long after those who hired him were terminated.
Now entering the final year of a deal that was said to be costing Toronto just under $2 million annually — a figure that puts him in an elite class of current MLS players — the Canadian embarks on what could be his final year at the club, hoping to silence criticism while providing the full-season service supporters expect from the club’s marquee players.
Queue TFC’s director of player development Paul Mariner, who says meaningful negotiations with de Guzman will likely begin following the summer transfer.
“Being really simplistic, I think (negotiations) are always ongoing,” Mariner told the Sun. “There are always discussions about what we’ll do with the composition of the team. But I’m sure it will polarize after the June window shuts.”
In terms of how the club intends to approach the situation, Mariner made it clear that his player policy is identical in every situation — the player’s status and title are meaningless when both sides come to the table.
“You’re honest, forthright and you say the things that need to be picked up to achieve the contract or you offer them another deal,” he said. “It’s not different for anybody else. Just because you’ve got a DP behind the name it doesn’t mean anything to us. We just want (Julian) to perform to the best of his ability.”
Something de Guzman did consistently at the end of last season during Toronto’s improbable run through the CONCACAF Champions League.
FINDING HIS FORM
Coming into last year hobbled and lacking sharpness, de Guzman’s early-season form was justifiably scrutinized following the club’s painful start that just exacerbated the issue.
A 3-0 battering in Seattle saw head coach Aron Winter remove de Guzman just after the half and an embarrassing 6-2 rout from Philadelphia shortly after propelled Winter to yank TFC’s most expensive commodity at the break.
Both instances saw the Canadian struggle to hold possession and provide a calming presence the club so desperately needed in a pair of difficult fixtures.
Following last season’s summer transfer, de Guzman began rebuilding the confidence he appeared to surrender during his first few seasons with the club, scoring a massive goal in Panama and playing an undervalued role against Pumas and Dallas in the Champions League group stage.
“(Julian) looks very, very good at the present moment,” Mariner said before the team left for Orlando Monday. “Our midfield, we’re reasonably happy with it.”
With an additional pair of DP’s — Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans — sharing the load last summer, supporters began to witness what the Scarborough native was capable of upon the removal of the spotlight that cast a shadow over his play from Day One.
And although Mariner reiterated that negotiations with each player work the same, he did concede that expectations are certainly raised for some at BMO Field.
“(Julian) is one of the leaders of the group and as a (designated player) you’re held to higher standards,” he said.
But as a leader and someone who is vital to the dressing room, why would the front office expose de Guzman to multiple expansion teams if Toronto was completely sold on retaining him?
A calculated risk? Maybe.
But it was a risk Vancouver, Salt Lake, Chivas, Portland, New England, LA, New York and Seattle weren’t willing to take with their pricey possessions.
As summer approaches questions will persist not only about the going rate for a proper holding midfielder in MLS, but whether Frings, should de Guzman go in a different direction, is capable of carrying the workload in his absence.
Despite finally beginning to find his footing in Toronto, the club will begin labouring over how to approach the situation when World Cup qualifying gets into full swing.
“He’s got the best part of 10 months left and there’s a lot of (soccer) that has got to be played,” Mariner said. “If he has got another one, two, four, five years left in his legs … we’ll try and keep him at the club as long as possible.
As long as he’s producing at a certain level on the field.
“It’s all on performance,” Mariner concluded. “It always has been, and always will be.”