Bottjer on Canada: De Guzman in Dallas

Midfielder Julian de Guzman in action for Canada. (CP)

When Julian de Guzman was traded by Toronto FC, most of the discussion centred on what the move meant in terms of cap space and a Designated Player slot for a TFC side looking to reinforce with a top quality defender.

While rumoured targets such as Olof Mellberg and Kevin McKenna have not yet materialized in Toronto, de Guzman has now played twice for FC Dallas and looks to be settling in fairly well.

Any time a team makes a coaching change, as Toronto did in June when Paul Mariner replaced Aron Winter, it usually sets off a domino situation in which the fortunes of certain players rise and fall under the new regime, and new players are signed while others are shipped out. Canadian international Terry Dunfield has seen his stock rise dramatically under Mariner, but his increased role with TFC did come at the expense of de Guzman, who most likely wasn’t going to be as effective in the new tactical framework that the English coach implemented in place of the ball on the ground approach favoured by his predecessor.

Thus, while a move to Dallas was probably not ideal from a personal standpoint for a Toronto native such as de Guzman, it could actually be just what the doctor ordered in terms of both his ongoing professional career and Canada’s upcoming World Cup qualifying matches.

If you assume that the technically gifted de Guzman was not going to excel playing English-style long ball in Toronto and was likely going to play out the final year of his current contract as a spot starter and substitute, it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to see Dallas as a pretty good fit for the 2008 Canadian Player of the Year.

Among many distinctions, de Guzman is well known for having been the first Canadian ever to compete in La Liga, where he excelled as a defensive midfielder with Deportivo La Coruna and was named their MVP for the 2007–08 campaign. However, after he signed with Toronto in 2009 amid much fanfare, he often struggled while playing alongside players that were a good distance from the technical quality of his former Deportivo teammates..

Looking back at his 2010 MLS campaign, it’s hard not to remember a one season TFC failure like fullback Raivis Hscanovics, whose patented move seemed to be to pass the ball to de Guzman and then stand like a statue while the player that had received his outlet pass was closed down by two or even three opposition players.

Conversely, de Guzman actually looked quite assured and in his element playing alongside a midfielder with the pedigree of Amado Guevara for too few games back in 2009. It’s also no coincidence that the Toronto native delivered a number of his best performances as a member of TFC this year when he played alongside Torsten Frings.

A quick perusal of the current Dallas roster suggests a group of players who could bring out the best in de Guzman. Coach Schellas Hyndman prefers to play a more Latin-influenced style of soccer and has populated his squad with highly technical and mobile players such as Fabian Castillo, Jackson, Brek Shea and 2010 league MVP David Ferreira. Furthermore, as a smaller player, de Guzman has sometimes struggled with the physicality of MLS and logic suggests that he needs to be paired up with a bigger partner in order to be truly effective. At six-feet-two, Dallas central midfielder Andrew Jacobson certainly brings the requisite brawn to go with de Guzman’s brains.

Only time will tell whether or not the move to Dallas will be a positive one for de Guzman. However, it does present him with a fresh start and a solid environment in which to showcase himself towards earning his next contract, whether that’s in MLS, in Europe or even in a country such as Mexico, where he would likely excel playing a highly technical style against smaller players than are the norm here in North America.

Certainly, getting out of Toronto where he was labelled persona non grata by many for not living up to their expectations as a DP while playing much of his tenure while recovering from a meniscus injury is probably addition by subtraction in terms of his own individual career management.

Of course, there is also the issue of whether or not playing in his hometown had a negligible effect on his performances. If de Guzman does end up playing well in Dallas, he certainly won’t become the first Toronto-born athlete who excelled upon leaving Hogtown. In any case, with his move to the Lone Star State, he will now be able to focus on soccer free from distraction.

From an International standpoint, Canadian coach Stephen Hart can only hope that de Guzman, who has been one of Canada’s best and most consistent performers in recent matches, will play regularly with his new team ahead of four key World Cup qualifiers in September and October.

In fact, de Guzman’s trade could ultimately turn out to be one of those instances in which all parties involved gain substantially from the move.

Toronto FC now has the flexibility to be able to bring in reinforcements and Mariner has the chance to mold the Reds to his satisfaction with new players that he personally selects. Hyndman and FC Dallas have gained a player who looks like he fits their tactical framework and who should be able to play a key role for their team, at least in the short term.

De Guzman, 31, can hopefully excel in Texas towards showcasing himself for what could possibly be the last substantial contract of his professional playing career.

And Hart will hopefully now be looking at improved situations for three of his North America-based midfielders, with Patrice Bernier, Dunfield and de Guzman all playing regularly and excelling.

De Guzman is no doubt a polarizing player for many Toronto FC fans. However, it should be remembered that he has represented Canada with distinction pretty much every time he has been called upon by his country.

With that in mind, all Canadian soccer fans should be hoping that he does well in Dallas and can regain the club form that made him a rare Canadian player who excelled at the highest levels during his years playing in Germany and Spain.

Steve Bottjer is a Toronto-based writer, podcaster and editor for RedNation Online, on online magazine covering all aspects of Canadian soccer. Follow RedNation Online on Twitter.

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