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Toronto FC 2011 Top 40 Countdown: Number 7 - Julian de Guzman

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Aaaawwwwww.
Aaaawwwwww.

A little belatedly, The Toronto FC Top 40 Countdown continues, and today we get our first DP. If this had been done back in July he'd have come in quite a bit lower, but a good second half gives him a respectable number 7 position. Julian de Guzman

Average Ranking: 7.273
Highest Ranking: 3
Lowest Ranking: 14

Duncan: 4. In my 2011 season preview, I said that de Guzman would be the crucial figure if this season was going to be a success. The new possession based system would heavily depend on his ability to find space in midfield to give the defence options to play the ball out. Also the 4-3-3 has the potential to be undermanned in central midfield so he would have a huge part to play in making sure the defence wouldn't be overwhelmed as well. How did he do? Well, not great.

The season started with TFC using what I think, with the right personnel is Aron Winter's preferred formation, the point forward 4-3-3, with an attacking midfielder ahead of the two central midfielders. The positional emphasis on attack means there has to be a commitment to defensive support from the wingers and that attacking midfielder. Unfortunately, that attacking midfielder was usually Maicon Santos, so you don't need me to tell you how that went. Without that, well the more defensive midfielders would have to be very very good to overcome the numerical disadvantage they face, keep things organised and keep the pressure off the defence. Maybe it was an impossible task given his teammates, but De Guzman wasn't up to the task. After the debacle in Seattle, the third time in their first 8 MLS games that TFC let in 3 or more goals, that midfield point had to switch back.

With De Guzman as the Defensive Midfielder behind the two Central Midfielders, TFC looked much more solid and throughout the month of May they put in a few good defensive performances, keeping clean sheets against Edmonton and more impressively in Colorado. De Guzman was a big part of that and it seemed like a much better fit for him, at least until the game against Philadelphia when he was subbed off at half time with TFC 3-0 down.

After that game he went off to join Canada at the Gold Cup, replaced for TFC by Nathan Sturgis, and it's not really a good comment on de Guzman that TFC didn't really look that much worse without him.

After the Gold Cup, de Guzman didn't return to the team right away amid talk of him not coming back at all, maybe being traded or even just having his contract bought out what with Torsten Frings now on board to play his position. He played in the Voyageur Cup game against Vancouver, but then was out injured until the game in Portland at the end of July.

Much like the rest of the team, he played much better in the second half of the season. With Frings behind him, either as a Defensive Midfielder or as sweeper, he seemed a lot more comfortable. It may have been down to having the pressure of being The Man for TFC relieved, no longer having to carry the main load of protecting the defence. Maybe it was just the added freedom of playing a bit further forward, and the confidence of knowing that Frings was behind him to help out if things went wrong. Maybe it was simply the case, as many people argued on his behalf that he needed better players around him.

Whatever the reason, he played much better and seemed happier and more interested as well, he even started scoring, though often in confusing/hilarious circumstances. His first goal against D.C United came while D.C were in the middle of a substitution, his second, against Tauro, was more due to horrendous goalkeeping, and his third against Columbus came after a very clear foul to win the ball on the edge of the box. It wasn't just the goals, but his overall play was vastly improved, and we finally saw the player we thought we were getting back in 2009, and his contribution to the late season CCL games against Pumas and Dallas was immense.

Has he justified the big salary and DP position? Maybe, but probably not. Unfortunately, that's the measuring stick that will always be used for de Guzman, fairly or not. I'd rather have the DP slot available to use on a really good Centre Back, but I wouldn't be disappointed if he continues in the 3rd DP spot next season.

If the option had been presented in mid season, I think the vast majority of fans would have taken the opportunity to have that money and DP spot spent on someone else instead, so little had he shown. Even now, I think if he didn't already have the contract for next year, most fans wouldn't vote to give him that DP spot ahead of some other unknown player. At least now though there would be a bit of a debate, and a lot less resentment of the contract actually existing.

If he can carry his late season form into next year and put in a full season at that level, that will mean very good things for TFC and might go some way to finally justifying his contract.

Dave: 8. His year was a tale of two seasons. In the first half he had all kinds of struggles thanks to injuries and other issues but when he recovered from the injury he picked up at the Gold Cup he seemed to find a level of form that we had yet to see from him at TFC. For the first time in 2 1/2 years JDG was showing the ability that made TFC management spend so much money to bring him in. He managed to chip in a couple of decent goals this season which was a pleasant surprise and when Frings arrived it seemed to spark him to another level. If he is around next season fans will certainly be hoping that he can continue with his improved form.

Keaton: 7.Frings was the best thing for Julian. I was really disappointed with De Guzman's first couple years here. I was confused that this was the same De Guzman that tore up La Liga. Not Ligue 1, or even Serie A. La Liga. But Julian has started to really play well since the arrival of Dunfield and Frings. I've always believe that De Guzman always needs players that are better than him around him to make him better. Does that make sense? It will be interesting to see if De Guzman will stay after his 3 year DP contract finishes.

James deCosta: Better late in season but not worth the money

Peter Meraw: Much better as a complementary piece, than a vital cog. Played the kind of feisty, holding role that made him player of the year for Deportivo a few years back

Alex: Stepped up and started to prove his worth

Kristin: Best season ever from him - showing why someone thought he was worth DP $

James: Finally saw his quality when he got some reinforcements that allowed him to shine. Tidy, adding some attack to his defending, would hate to see him leave just as things started to come together.

JC_Plante: Tale of two seasons, after July 1st was a different player. He became the player we expected him to be the last 3 years. Would love to see him traded to make room for Bouchiba

Macs_Daddy: Best year so far. Worth every penny toward the cap. Nice to see him finally have some other talent to play with in the second half of the season

The Yorkies: Still not enough bang for the buck - but better in 2011

Jimmy Stone: Needs to improve. Sometimes brilliant other times awful. Needs to step his game up a notch if he is to justify his DP spot.

Devon Taylor: JDG had the best year of his TFC career this year, including popping in a few goals. The addition of Frings has taken some of the pressure of Julian, and it shows.

Ignirtoq: Clearly, I either do not appreciate the role of a defensive midfield, or was just not paying attention when deGoo did his "thing" this season. I understand and respect his value to the team, but due to lack of comprehension, he is not rated in my top 10.

Blindfolded Tank Driver: De Guzman has been yards better with the introduction of actual quality DPs to push him.

Number 8: Ryan Johnson
Number 6: Milos Kocic

Full Top 40 so far.