The year is 2011. Donny Toia is Real Salt Lake’s first homegrown signing.
He plays forward, but saying “he plays” is probably an overstatement. He’s getting reserve minutes, but he’s 19, and he’s far from a finished product. He’s cut coming into the 2012 season, and for a time, it looks a lot like his dream of playing professional soccer might be over.
He moves to FC Tucson in 2012. Arizona United, who you may know as Phoenix Rising, is just a club in USL. He’s there in 2013.
2014 restores the dream. He goes to Chivas USA and plays in their last MLS season — and he’s playing regularly. But he’s not a forward, and he’s playing at left back. He moves to Montreal Impact, then Orlando City, then finally, back home, to Real Salt Lake in 2019.
Donny Toia’s apparent last season at Real Salt Lake, 2021, saw him as a figure that was sidelined. He was displaced initially by another, younger academy product, Andrew Brody. Another attacking player being put in a defensive role, and he’s done well. Toia’s sidelining isn’t a permanent thing, and Brody is injured, out of contention for a string of games. He doesn’t win his place back, but he fills the role while RSL is trying to figure out what comes next.
Then, Freddy Juarez leaves the club. This is where it truly gets weird for a player like Donny Toia, once an attacker, now a modern full back. Pablo Mastroeni takes over and transforms the system nearly overnight, putting RSL in a 3-5-2 with wingers playing as wing backs. Toia is put to work in his first match in this new system, playing in a left-wing role that doesn’t entirely suit him. The entire defense is disorganized for 90 minutes, but it is Toia whose future is in most question. It’s the first match in this weird 3-5-2, and he’s sacrificed at the left wing spot.
He plays one more time for Real Salt Lake — this time, at center back. It’s a new role for him at the team, and Transfermarkt has him playing at center back just one other time in his career. Real Salt Lake loses 2-1 to Austin FC. It is the last time Donny Toia plays for this team. Was it the just ending that our first-ever homegrown signing deserved? Perhaps not. Soccer is, as they too often parrot, is a cruel game, and Toia’s biggest flaw was being one of several players who didn’t fit into a new system with a new head coach.
Donny Toia was never a world-beating left back for this team, but he was a serviceable option for a long time. He was reliable enough to keep his role, but he was never stellar enough to silence doubt. In a sense, he was the quintessential MLS player at Real Salt Lake.
Toia’s time at the club has almost certainly come to an end. He was a regular starter and sometimes a divisive figure, but he was ours — we made him. I am glad he came back for a second round at the club, and I am optimistic that he can find another MLS side that needs his now-veteran influence.
I’ll never forget his mustache.