Juan Toja

Major League Soccer’s Top Five overpaid players

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The updated MLS salary list came out late last week. We found five under-performers who were notable for not earning their highly-paid keep.

(Check back tomorrow for our list of MLS salary bargains)

The overly pricey players are listed in alphabetical order:

Toronto FC’s Richard Eckersley, $310,000 guaranteed: Anything more than $150,000 for an outside back in MLS needs careful examination. Paying twice that for a right back is just silly. Plus, if we ranked MLS right backs, TFC’s Englishman would be mid-pack at best.

Sporting Kansas City’s Benny Feilhaber $312,000 guaranteed: He didn’t work out in New England. He’s not exactly working out to plan in Kansas City, where the former U.S. international has been just OK while starting 15 of 24 matches for the first-place side. Depth is great and all, but not at this price.

Chicago’s Sherjill MacDonald, 527,000 guaranteed: You know, for half a mil, Chicago really should get at least one freakin’ goal out of this guy. One goal! The club has pretty much given up, and rightly so after no goals and just one, single assist in 13 appearances. Shame they couldn’t see the truth in this huge salary bust earlier. It’s not like the rest of us weren’t noticing; we told you back in April the guy was a bust.

(MORE: MLS salary analysis in chart, table form)

Real Salt Lake’s Brandon McDonald, $273,000 guaranteed: RSL is paying very little of his salary; D.C. United, which traded McDonald last month, continues to tote most of the note on this one. At Rio Tinto, he’s probably the third or fourth best center back when everyone is healthy (although he is providing some valuable service during the club’s time of back line injury crisis).

New England’s Juan Toja, $295,000 guaranteed: Seriously, guys, what gives? Why is he still around Gillette Stadium, still eating up a roster spot, not to mention all that salary? The Colombian midfielder is absolutely nothing like the guy who was so bright and lively at the 2007 All-Star game. He can’t run, and he’s simply not productive. Pay a guy that much in MLS and it’s fair to demand he be more than a part-time starter. (Toja has started 11 of New England’s 23 matches.) A playmaker, ostensibly, Toja has a goal and no assists this year.

It’s official: New England’s Juan Toja is a huge bust

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It always seems off-putting to complain about something on a club where things aren’t going too badly. What’s worse, it reinforces the stereotype of journalists as a bunch of negative nellies, always sitting around waiting for the next thing to be all cynical about.

That said …

New England has lost just one in nine league matches since early may (a 5-1-3 record). The Revs shook off a slow start to climb right into the thick of playoff possibility.

How? Well, Jose Goncalves has established himself as one of the league’s top center backs. Bobby Shuttleworth has been strong enough in goal to displace the longtime incumbent at Gillette, Matt Reis. Rookie right back Andrew Farrell is coming along nicely.

Diego Fagundez may be inconsistent, but the kid brims with bright upside. Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe continue to provide something dynamic in the attack and Chad Barrett has been a pleasant surprise.

So, of course, I want to talk about Juan Toja (pictured above).

I watched Toja enter for Fagundez in the 88th minute of Saturday’s win over San Jose and I thought (and put on Twitter): “This is what the Revs get for $300,000? Three minutes of mop-up duty for the 18-year-old kid?”

It really has reached the point of being fairly ridiculous.

Toja isn’t going to be a factor. He just isn’t going to be the midfield dynamo that made such a splash for Dallas and at the MLS All-Star game back in 2007. The evidence is fairly overwhelming at this point.

Toja produced no goals and no assists in five matches last year after his late summer arrival into Gillette Stadium. Health and fitness were clearly and issue.

But they continue to be, and that’s as concerning as anything else. Halfway through this year, in nine starts and four more off the bench, the Colombian lefty has … no goals and no assists. So in almost a full year of soccer for New England, his sum contribution has been three shots on goal. That’s it.

At this point he’s just wasted salary. And in Major League Soccer, $300,000 is a ton of dough. Just think about what Jay Heaps’ team could do with that money!

New England took a chance, and that’s OK. Toja demonstrated enough previously that he was probably worth it, although his inability to stick anywhere for more than two years was surely a warning sign.

But it didn’t work, and New England should move on.

Highlights: So this happened to LA Galaxy – five goals from the New England Revolution

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Sometimes it’s not the fact that you lose. It’s how you lose.

That was a refrain we used last week when talking about the Sounders’ collapse in Los Angeles. Allowing four goals in the first half wasn’t necessarily a sign of implosion from a squad that was finishing off a strong May. It was just the way it happened, an inexplicably flat start against a strong opponent, one that couldn’t help but evoke memories of last year’s conference final an the previous postseason’s game at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Today’s late match collapse by the LA Galaxy doesn’t carry such weighty implications, but the undertone of the 5-0 loss may be still telling. The LA defense was without Omar Gonzalez and Todd Dunivant, so extrapolating conclusions onto their first team is a bit of a reach, but as it concerns Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza and youngsters Tommy Meyer and Greg Cochrane, is has to be disappointing for Bruce Arena see a unit just turn off.

After 70 minutes, the score was 1-0. At full time, it as 5-0, with three of the Revolutions’ goals coming after the 86th minute.

It should go without saying that you never want to see your team collapse like that, but with the game all but decided by the time New England went on their three-goal barrage, there’ll be the temptation to brush this off. With LA missing its two best defenders, there may be an implicit asterisk thrown up next to the score. Those conclusions would overlook something a coach never wants to see. Nobody ever wants to see their team stop playing.

Whether Bruce Arena feels that’s what happened remains to be seen. Regardless, giving up five to the Revolution — a team that came into today’s gave with 10 goals in 12 games — should sound an alarm on some level.

Lest we overlook New England’s result, take a look at that first goal, in the highlights above. Yes, the Galaxy defense are playing off Saer Sene like he’s wearing radio active slide shorts, but the nice movement from right flank to the middle of the area hints Sene, making his first start of the season, is ready to start having the same impact he had in 2012.

That gives Jay Heaps one of the league’s top 10 forwards. And he also has Juan Agedulo. And Lee Nguyen. And Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez, Jerry Bengston and Juan Toja.

And as of right now, New England are even with Philadelphia for fifth place in the East. Maybe the Revolution has begun.

Major League Soccer team previews: NEW ENGLAND

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 8 in the East is the New England Revolution:

Significant additions and subtractions: Even with some high-profile MLS offseason signings from abroad, one of the truly interesting figures to watch this year is Andrew Farrell, the wise-beyond-his-years No. 1 overall draft pick.

Malian midfielder Kalifa Cissé looks like a Revolution upgrade at the holding midfield spot. Or, he gives Heaps the option of using tandem screeners (along with Clyde Simms), which could further free up attackers on the flanks.

Midfielder Andy Dorman is back for a second spell with New England, where he launched a professional career a few years back. As a two-way midfielder Dorman will more or less replace Benny Feilhaber, the talented passer who didn’t quite fit at Gillette Stadium and now resides in Kansas City. Feilhaber was the only player with significant minutes in 2012 not brought back.

Strengths: A midfield with Lee Nguyen, Juan Toja (assuming the Colombian now on his second MLS tour is healthy and gets his fitness in order) and the promising Kelyn Rowe is not one that most sides care to face.

With a full season as a head coach behind him,  Heaps is now better equipped to steer the team where it needs to go. He acknowledges the steep learning curve in 2012.

Honduran international Jerry Bengtson should benefit from a full preseason and from the MLS grounding his got last year, coming into the season late, with his team already on the ropes (and still sorting out some chemistry). His transition didn’t exactly go smoothly, but that doesn’t matter now.

Pressure points: Start with the ongoing spiral, which Heaps was unable to arrest last year. The Revs, who made three MLS Cup finals through the middle of the last decade, haven’t been to the playoffs in the last three seasons.

Between the younger and lesser tested Bobby Shuttleworth and increasingly pressed incumbent Matt Reis, the Revs have a tough choice in goal.

Left back Chris Tierney was having a wonderful preseason before an injury (and an unfortunate, unnecessary incident) against Seattle.

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Difference maker: Hard to imagine that fleet and skillful left-sided operator Nguyen was released by Vancouver about this time last year. He’s more or less the focal point of New England’s offense this year, at least until Toja gets his fitness in order. A big emphasis of Heaps’ preseason plan is finding ways to get Nguyen (pictured left) on the ball in better places, making him the second pass out of the back rather than the first, thus giving him a less cluttered look at things, with more time to create from wide areas and little less opportunity to get whacked by bigger defenders and midfielders. With ability to run at opponents and audacious on the shot, Nguyen is still brimming with potential.

Potential breakout player: I see big things in Farrell, who still doesn’t have an assigned spot at Gillette Stadium, able to man the right back, center back or holding midfield spots. Wherever he lines up, the big fellow just looks like a guy who has played the game professionally for years. And I’m not the only one expecting big things from the former University of Louisville standout.

Diego Fagundez, the club’s 18-year-old striker (and teen heartthrob, apparently) is another potential breakout figure.

Bottom line: The back line still seems less settled than it needs to be, the goalkeeping must improve and a striker simply has to emerge who can reliably supply 12-14 goals this year. (We are looking at you, Bengtson.) The elements seem to be there – but the proof will be in better results.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Building preseason knowledge: Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution

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TUCSON, Ariz. – Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans scored in their first preseason appearances with Seattle as the Sounders ran the show against New England in the desert.

Both teams field something that looked like their first-choice lineups in the opener of the Desert Diamond Cup.

Here is some of what we learned:

  • Johnson scored a peach of a goal, working his way free on the left side, cruising into the penalty area and curling a ball into the upper corner. In all honesty, the collecting defending wasn’t very sharp, and an MLS starting forward – not to mention a U.S. international – needs to hit that shot when provided so much room. Still, it was pretty.
  • New England midfielder Juan Toja was on the field for about 20 minutes, his first appearance on the preseason, having been slowed by injury. That’s the thing with Toja: it’s not a matter of talent, it’s a matter of keeping healthy enough to bit familiarity and fitness. Plus the issue of keeping a high salary when the New England midfield is fairly well stocked. So, we’ll see.
  • These preseason games get overly combative more often than you would think. It is, after all, only preseason. Osvaldo Alonso’s bad tackle on New England left back Chris Tierney summoned up the first little push-and-shove fest. Later, Sainey Nyassi slid dangerously into March Burch, eliciting a little retaliatory slap from the Sounders defender. Both players were ejected.
  • Hopefully the ankle injury to Tierney isn’t significant. He was playing quite well, making Mauro Rosales really work and providing a good push from his left back spot. New England officials say Tierney has had an excellent preseason so far.
  • Best player in Revolution camp? Scott Caldwell is making a heck of a case. The 21-year-old Revolution academy product was slightly more defensive in the midfield set-up Wednesday, but is naturally a two-way central midfielder.
  • Unlike Evans and Johnson, who came back sharp from their periods of international training and matches, Jerry Bengtson wasn’t much of a factor. The Revs striker (and Honduran international) needs to score for Jay Heaps’ team to make progress this year.