FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Although he’s starting fresh with a new team in a new city, Juan Toja feels like he’s home again.
Toja had a brief but wildly successful stint in MLS with FC Dallas in 2007 and 2008, establishing himself as a fan favorite in Frisco with a unique blend of attacking flair and rugged determination. After 43 regular-season appearances and a pair of All-Star nods, Toja made the leap to Europe where he spent the past four years playing for Romanian side Steaua Bucuresti and Greek club Aris Thessaloniki.
But the 27-year-old Colombian continued to follow MLS’ development and recently decided the time was right to return stateside, landing in New England with the Revolution via the Allocation Process. Toja knows the league isn’t the same as it was when he left for Europe, but he’s confident his familiarity with MLS will provide a certain level of comfort as he acclimates to his new surroundings.
“I already know the league, the players and most of the people,” Toja said after Tuesday morning’s training session on the practice fields outside Gillette Stadium. “I have been checking the league since I left and I know it’s changed a lot during these two, three, four years since I left, so I must get used to it again. But I think it’s better for me to be here than any other place, any other country.”
One of Toja’s first challenges is a race for fitness as he aims to play a part in the Revolution’s final six games of the regular season. Without a club in recent months, Toja has relied on individual workouts to maintain his fitness and he admits it’ll take a bit of time before he reaches full strength.
“I’m just trying to get 100 percent as soon as possible,” said Toja. “I’m not 100 percent, I’m not completely fit, but I’m starting practice now. I hope in a few days, a few weeks I will be me again.”
“There’s going to be a lot of communication, a lot of dialogue between the two of us and our training staff,” said head coach Jay Heaps, who plans to assess Toja’s fitness level daily in the coming weeks. “[We need] to make sure we’re not getting anxious and wanting to get him out there just because, but at the same time, we also want to make sure that he’s progressing at the right pace.”
If it was up to Toja, the right pace would have him ready in time to feature on Saturday night when the Revs visit D.C. United at RFK Stadium, but he understands his participation requires a cautious approach as he works his way back to top form.
“I (would) want to play tomorrow if I can, but the truth is that I’m not completely fit,” Toja said. “I must be careful because just trying to play as soon as possible you can get hurt or you can make a mistake. So I must discuss with the coach, I must see every day how I’m feeling to decide when it’s going to be. I hope as soon as possible.”