Julian de Guzman is, if not the most polarising figure in Toronto FC history, definitely in the top two along with a certain somebody we'll be playing against next weekend. Recently it seems like a tipping point has been reached and most people agree that he really isn't playing all that well and plenty think it's probably best to let him go. But for the first couple of years of his TFC career, there's usually been a lot of people ready to defend him, and while even his staunchest defenders agreed he was paid too much, they often argued that his impact with the team was greater then most people notice, mainly due to the position he was playing.
A Defensive Midfielder isn't really supposed to be spectacular they'd argue, a lot of what he does is deceptively simple and doesn't get the attention that a great goal, or pass or a really aggressive tackle might, but is still just as valuable. It's not his fault they said, that he was made a DP and then asked to play a position where, even when he played well and helped the team, it doesn't really stand out. Using a DP spot on a DM was just a colossally bad decision in and of itself, besides have you seen the people he's been forced to play with?
I'm not saying those people are wrong, hell I made those arguments on his behalf plenty of times myself, but then, along came Torsten Frings. He's primarily played the same Defensive Midfield position since he got here, and in 4 games now, he's looked genuinely impressive, taking charge of games, making a difference and being everything people thought they were going to get when De Guzman came on board back in 2009.
But that's just a casual impression, relying heavily on intangibles and the sort of opinion that can easily be argued, so let's have a look at some hard facts, comparing their performances via all the stats on MLSSoccer.com's fantastic newish chalkboard feature.
I'll start with all the necessary caveats to this sort of thing. Yes, statistics can be manipulated to show whatever you want to, and yes De Guzman was making his first start after injury, only played just over 60 minutes, and the last 30 minutes he missed were by far Toronto's best, partly due to a change in formation and also Portland sitting back on their lead a bit. So all those things make this a bit unfair to De Guzman (though the other way to look at things is that TFC's dramatic improvement came about after De Guzman was substituted for Terry Dunfield, so maybe it's not unfair at all) but let's see what the numbers show us.
Given he played 61 minutes, I've basically multiplied all De Guzman's numbers by 1.5 to get a 90 minute comparison.
I'll start with the offensive creative side of things, where Frings shows up as far more involved and far more effective. Frings had 71 successful passes to 11 unsuccessful ones, a success rate of 87%, with 1 successful cross and 1 unsuccessful, 2 key passes and 1 through ball. He was also tackled and lost possession 13 times.
De Guzman had 51 successful and 15 unsuccessful passes, a success rate of 77%, with 0 successful and 2 unsuccessful crosses, and 0 key passes or through balls,and 18 times he was tackled and lost possession The one area where De Guzman was better than Frings was with shots on goal, taking three of them, one of which was on target.
On the more defensive side of things, it was a similar story, Frings again having more of an impact, with 1 tackle won, 2 tackles lost, 2 clearances and 8 recoveries, with 0 defensive blocks. De Guzman won 0 tackles, lost 2, had 0 clearances, 5 recoveries and 2 defender blocks.
So there we have it, just one game, and with all the inherent flaws within the stats that I mentioned above, but I think that's a very good statistical representation of what we all saw with our own eyes, which is Frings being much more involved than De Guzman, and much more effectively so as well.
Now, I'm not saying I want De Guzman to be dropped from the team (though I did vote for shot out of a cannon, in the cold light of day, he can often be a very useful player), I think a midfield three of him, Frings and Terry Dunfield, who had a great 30 minute cameo appearance, could be very useful indeed and I'd like to see that given a chance over a few games.
But what these stats help show is that Frings is already performing at a level head and shoulders above anything that De Guzman has done in his 2 years with the club. This is what TFC fans thought they were going to get when De Guzman joined up, a player who's done very well in a top European league, and who should be able to come to MLS and dominate. For whatever reason, De Guzman didn't do that. But Frings is showing that it's not to do with the league itself, or with TFC and the lack of quality players around him, or any of the other excuses that have been made for De Guzman, it's all been down to De Guzman himself. Whereas De Guzman throughout his 2 years here seems to be coasting and letting his level of play be dragged down to the general TFC level, Frings seems able to play at the higher standard we expected, and looks determined to do his best to drag TFC up to meet him, rather than the other way round.
So to Mo Johnston, my apologies, a DM can indeed have a big impact and look impressive, spending big money on a DP DM isn't in and of itself a bad decision, you just chose the wrong one. To Julian De Guzman, all your excuses have been blown away, get your ass in gear you've got 11 (hopefully 17) games left to prove your worth.