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De Guzman, grass signify TFC's high expectations
by Ridge Mahoney, September 14th, 2009 7AM
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[MLS] The effect of signing international midfielder Julian De Guzman as its first Designated Player may not take full effect until next year, but Toronto FC has already put another piece into play for 2010. Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLS&E), the team's primary investor, has received approval from the board of governors of Exhibition Place, site of BMO Field, to install a grass playing surface in time for next season.

Coupled with the estimated value of De Guzman's contract, which has not been officially confirmed but is thought to be worth more than $2 million per year, MLS&E is on the hook for nearly $15 million. It will spend more than $6 million to tear out the FieldTurf at BMO Field and replace it with grass, construct a bubble over another facility, Lamport Stadium, to meet public-use requirements that were part of the BMO Field project, and build an artificial-turf field at Lakeshore Collegiate Institute to stage additional events.

The next step for the project is approval by the Toronto City Council, which will discuss the proposal on Sept. 30.

A stipulation for year-round use as a condition of using public funds necessitated the installation of FieldTurf, despite objections from TFC coaches, players and fans, and a bubble being erected each winter. Upon being traded to Toronto FC from Houston, midfielder Dwayne De Rosario launched a campaign of criticism regarding the FieldTurf surface, which is showing signs of wear and needs to replaced in the MLS offseason regardless. The acquisition of De Guzman, who like De Rosario grew up in nearby Scarborough, surely played a role in MLS&E's decision.

De Guzman, 28, has played in Europe for the past decade, and became a free agent in June when his contract with Spanish club Deportivo LaCoruna expired. He has scored four goals and accumulated 40 caps for Canada since making his international debut in 2002, and has represented his country at the FIFA U-20 World Cup as well as the 2002, 2007, and 2009 Concacaf Gold Cup tournaments.

"Initially I had options to go and continue my career in Spain and also to play with PSV [Eindhoven] or in England, but most of the time it was lots of speculation and rumors," said De Guzman, who first went to Europe in 1997 after being scouted by French club Marseille as a teenager. "TFC is the best option for me and I am very pleased to be here. This is a new chapter in my career."

A Toronto native of Jamaican and Filipino descent, De Guzman (5-foot-7, 150 pounds) has played most of his club career as a defensive or holding midfielder, but is skilled and crafty enough to contribute offensively. He will wear No. 6, which defender Nick Garcia - acquired earlier in the season from San Jose - had been wearing since coming east in the trade.

TFC shed several moderately salaried players in midseason to clear some cap space for De Guzman, whose acquisition has been financed in large part by the sale of midfielder Maurice Edu to Glasgow Rangers last summer for $5 million, and he will most likely take the starting spot of Welsh international Carl Robinson in 2010. According to director of soccer Mo Johnston, De Guzman is under contract for this season and three more, and there is no buyout clause.

Paperwork issues prevented his inclusion into the game-day lineup in time for the match against Colorado that Toronto won, 3-2. He is expected to train with the team all week and make the trip to Los Angeles for a Saturday match against the Galaxy at Home Depot Center.

"We want competition for places," said TFC coach Chris Cummins of how to fit De Guzman into a crowded midfield. "I try and put out the best team possible, I don't look at things like which lads earn the most money.

"It's up to players to get into that system, whether it's 4-4-2 or 3-5-2. He can play in a couple of different positions, play the holding one where he can get it and supply people, or he can play a bit further forward and go and be more dynamic and get into the box."

Aside from the expense, the De Guzman signing is a gamble for MLS&E. The team still needs a proven striker or rock-solid defender but instead has opted to spend DP money on a two-way central mid, of which is has several, including Honduran international Amado Guevara and rookie Sam Cronin as well as Robinson. The move might also rankle De Rosario, who is earning the maximum salary yet believes he's deserving of DP status.

And if TFC misses the playoffs again, the De Guzman signing won't lessen the pressure felt by Cummins, Managaer Mo Johnston, the players and TFC management.

"[Julian] is 28 years old," said Johnston to "He's not 33, 34 and just coming home looking for a paycheck. He could've stayed in Europe. We pursued for months, we made it happen and we think it's a wonderful signing."


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