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He's back: Donny Toia returns to FC Tucson

Former TSA, Pima College & CDO standout to play for local club after time in Major League Soccer

FC Tucson coach Jon Pearlman has been hinting at possible “new pieces” for his struggling team.

On Thursday, the team announced that they were signing former Real Salt Lake defender Donny Toia. Toia might not be “new” — he played for FC Tucson, after all, in its first season in the Premier Development League (now called USL League Two). Still, it is expected that he will help the team climb out of its current spot at the bottom of the League One table.

“We were both in a position where we were trying to figure out how to make the best move for ourselves,” said Pearlman. “Right now, Donny can elevate our team with his leadership, his quality of play, with his desire and his love for this city.”

“Donny’s got a lot more gas in his tank,” he said of the 30-year-old player.

Pearlman’s relationship with Toia goes back to his time as a youth player. Toia won two state championships with Canyon Del Oro and played at Pima College before being picked up by Real Salt Lake as their first “homegrown” signing. He played in reserve games, but was released before playing for the full team.

FC Tucson gave him a chance in 2012 where he quickly became a favorite of fans. He scored the first goal that season in a match against Fresno Fuego. He moved back to the pros the next season with Phoenix FC, and finally back to Major League Soccer with stints for Chivas USA, L’Impact de Montréal, Orlando City and finally back to Real Salt Lake.

He had a reputation as a tenacious defender, something local fans saw in a preseason match at Kino in 2021 when he had a crunching tackle against Mexican national teamer Chicharito. But, at the end of last season, Real Salt Lake released him. The team’s replacement for Toia was another former FC Tucson player, Tate Schmitt.

Toia was in Tucson for preseason in 2022 wearing the green and gold of the Portland Timbers. He didn’t get selected by the team and FC Cincinnati, a team already heavy on the defensive roster, decided not to pick him after a tryout.

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For all of the issues with the team, Pearlman has noted he’s been relatively happy with the back line, especially with Kaelon Fox healthy enough to play full matches. However, Toia had been a striker when he was a younger player, and was the leading scorer in both his first season with FC Tucson and his season with Phoenix FC.

So, what position is he going to play?

“It’s a great question. I don’t know,” said Toia with a laugh. “I’ll play anywhere he wants me to play except goalkeeper.”

“Getting him on the field is the most important thing,” said Pearlman. “Donny can score goals in a number of ways…and we are going to use him consistently where there is a mismatch or advantage.”

“There hasn’t been a lot of ferocity in the final third, and Donny can bring that,” he added.

As a 30-year-old who has been playing professionally for a decade, Toia is a very different player than he was in his last stint with FC Tucson. In that season Toia was known to, at times, make a poor decision that would earn him a card. It was a habit he got over as he became a pro. Now, Toia will be on a team that has a lot of young players that, at times, are as hot headed as he was in those days.

“There’s a leadership role because of the experience I’ve had,” Toia said “I’m not huge on pointing fingers, but the team comes first. If something is going on that needs to be addressed, I’m not going to be afraid to speak up and tell it like it is.”

Toia hasn’t played a game in months and is getting over what Pearlman terms a “minor injury,” so he will likely not be on the roster for Saturday’s away match. Ironically, that game is against the team Toia opened his scoring for FC Tucson: Central Valley Fuego.

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Joshua Pearson/TucsonSentinel.com

Donny Toia after a Real Salt Lake match at Kino North Stadium