Juan Carlos Toja is the bomb
The big new signings are yet to have an impact on MLS. David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco won't suit up until July, and Juan Pablo Angel got his first minutes last night for New York. But in the opening six weeks of the season, a slew of new faces have had a marked impact on the league. My five favorites:
class=img_thumbleft>5. Danny Dichio : Yes, the former Preston North End striker has played all of one game for Toronto FC. But he made such a tremendous impression. The burly, bald-headed Brit went barreling into 'keeper Kevin Hartman like it was a rugby pitch just 23 minutes into his debut, earning him a yellow card. He then boasted about it to the sideline reporter at halftime as if he was auditioning for a spot on WWE Smackdown. I have no idea if he's got any talent. Given that he scored a paltry five goals in 63 appearances for Preston, odds are pretty strong that he's a bum.
4. Michael Harrington: It took the rookie from North Carolina all of three minutes to score his first MLS goal. He's since proven to be the 2007 version of Jonathan Bornstein. Harrington's got chutzpah to burn and is comfortable lining up pretty much anywhere on the field. He gets the nod over Dane Richards as early frontrunner for rookie of the year.
3. Steve Morrow and Curt Onalfo: The pair of first year coaches have put together two of the league's more intriguing squads. Morrow boldly threw overboard a bunch of veterans (Ronnie O'Brien, Greg Vanney,
Aaron Pitchkolan Simo Valikari) in favor of young, untested talent. Not surprisingly, the results for Dallas have been uneven. Ramon Nunez has displayed moments of brilliance and Kenny Cooper continues to manipulate his huge, hunchbacked frame in ways that amaze. I still think Dallas' green defense (Alex Yi? Clarence "Own Goal" Goodson?) will ultimately leave them near the foot of the table, but they're awful fun to watch. By contrast Onalfo hardly touched a K.C. squad that was second worst in the East last year and has somehow transformed it into the most consistent team in MLS. Eddie Johnson's playing with renewed vigor. Sasha Victorine is displaying heretofore unknown skill. And the addition of Kevin Hartman has cemented K.C.'s defense as the best in the league. Now if they can just get some fans to show up for their games. (I'll be doing my part by traveling south for this Saturday's clash with Dallas.)
2. Claudio Reyna: There's no disputing the positive impact that Reyna's had on a team that has been the laughingstock of MLS since its inception. Just look at New York's gutty 1-0 win over Houston last month despite playing a man down for the final 54 minutes. Reyna slowed the game down, controlled the middle of the field, and frustrated the Dynamo into playing poorly.
class=img_thumbleft>1. Juan Carlos Toja : Throughout the offseason I was consumed by a gnawing concern: Who would lead the league in fouls now that Simo Valikari is no longer around to inflict mayhem on opposing squads? Heading into the first match, the odds-on favorite for this prestigious honor looked to be unrepentant hack Danny O'Rourke. But it only took one game for me to anoint Juan Carlos Toja as the man to beat. The Columbian midfielder is seemingly everywhere on the pitch. He's like Joey Franchino, but with talent. So far Toja's fighting off strong challenges from Ben Olsen, Jeff Larentowicz, and fellow Hoop Carlos Ruiz to lead the league in malfeasance, but I'm confident that ultimately he'll prevail. Even better he's risen to the top of this distinguished category without receiving a single yellow card. There should be a trophy for this honor. The Simo Valikari Memorial Hack Cup. Or somesuch. Of course Toja gets additional love for his glorious heavy metal hair.
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