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Apr 11, 2008

Guevara the ultimate gamble for Toronto

For all the problems Toronto FC dealt with last year, whether it was injuries, defensive troubles or goalkeeper issues, perhaps the most pressing problem was the team's lack of a creative spark. There was no playmaker who could create opportunities for the TFC offense and entertain the packed crowds at BMO Field with some attacking flair.

By signing Honduran playmaker and former MLS MVP Amado Guevara, Toronto FC has added exactly the kind of player the team has been missing. In the process, the club has also pinned its hopes on a player with a reputation for being volatile, a player whose performance just might make or break the second-year club's season.

Signing Guevara is the ultimate risk/reward move for Mo Johnston, Toronto's new director of soccer. On one hand, there isn't the concern about Guevara adapting to the style of the league that they might have found with another foreign player. He has already played and dominated in MLS before, but there is that temper and that reputation for being able to transform from happy-go-lucky to chronic malcontent.

Toronto is banking on Guevara being able to stay happy, something he wasn't always able to do during his first tenure in MLS. Johnston knows firsthand how good and bad Guevara can be, having been an assistant or head coach during all four years of Guevara's time with the MetroStars/Red Bulls.

During that time, Johnston saw a player who could lose focus if referees were making calls he didn't like or if an opponent said the right things to wind him up.

What Johnston also saw was a player capable of taking over a match with his skill, inventiveness and will. At his best, Guevara is as good as any midfielder in MLS. At his worst, Guevara can be a divisive force whose form dips when he is not happy, something Chivas USA fans learned all to well during his brief time there.

So will the good Guevara show up rather than the bad one, the one that played its way out of the league just one year ago?

Toronto is banking on three things to help Guevara's ability to play his best:

1. The Lineup. The squad has been built to make good use of a true playmaker. In the team's 4-5-1, Guevara will have the defensive support that will allow him to focus on playmaking and he has a good stable of forwards to feed the ball to in Jeff Cunningham, Danny Dichio and Colin Samuel.

Perhaps most importantly is that Guevara will be paired in central midfield with Maurice Edu, who will easily be the best defensive midfield partner Guevara has played with in MLS. With Edu and Carl Robinson doing the heavy lifting in central midfield, Guevara could flourish.

2. The Fans. For all his transgressions during his time in New York, Guevara was a fan favorite with the MetroStars/Red Bulls. His passion and big-play ability captivated crowds at Giants Stadium, even if his red cards and playoff disappointments left other fans frustrated. Now Guevara will step in front of sold-out crowds at BMO Field, where the fans just might be able to coax the MVP-type form Toronto FC is hoping he can recapture.

3. The Coach. There is little disputing that, of the coaches Guevara played for in MLS, Bob Bradley brought the best out of him while Preki and Johnston, two younger and strong-willed coaches, clashed with Guevara. Enter TFC head coach John Carver, a veteran coach with vast experience working with some of the game's most notorious head cases.

"In fairness, it's the reputation that he's got on the field, that's the reason we signed him," Carver told the Toronto Globe & Mail. "And I'm used to dealing with people with strange reputations.

"It's about getting the best out of them. I can handle the reputations. I've worked with some of the biggest names in the game and Guevara is a big-name player. And I'm sure we'll enjoy working together."

If Toronto is lucky, Guevara will show up ready to make the most of his last chance in MLS. Sources close to Guevara believe he has matured during the last year as his exile in Honduras must have allowed for some time to consider his future and what is left of his career. Guevara has actually played very well since leaving MLS, both with the Honduran national team and CD Motagua. He is 31 and knows that he is in the twilight of his career. The year he spent in Honduras just might be what Guevara needed to regroup.

Now, if Guevara doesn't regain his MVP form and instead becomes a troublemaker, Toronto will be in for a long year and Johnston and Carver will start to feel serious pressure. With another talented, but potentially volatile player also joining the team recently in Laurent Robert plus the track record of foreign signings in Toronto already looking disappointing after a year and change, Toronto needs Guevara's latest stint in MLS to be a success, just as much as Guevara does.

The risk is there, but for Toronto, Guevara was a risk worth taking and could be a move that helps Toronto field a team worthy of the unmatched support the club already receives.

Game previews

This weekend's slate of games will feature a pair of intriguing comebacks to MLS that should make for great theatre. On Saturday, the San Jose Earthquakes return to San Jose for the first time since the former Earthquakes were moved to Houston. It should be an emotional day for Earthquake fans.

Sunday should feature the return to MLS of Amado Guevara, the fiery Honduran playmaker who left the league in a flash after having a falling out with former club Chivas USA. Perhaps it is fitting that he comes back to MLS to play at Home Depot Center, home of Chivas USA. There should be a packed house at Home Depot and Guevara will be eager to make a good first impression with his new club.

Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes

San Jose plays its first home game since being reincarnated and faces a Chicago team riding high after its 4-0 win against New England. The Earthquake offense is still a bit toothless but it will be interesting to see whether the excitement of the team's first home match will propel San Jose to a winning performance. Don't count on it. Cuauhtemoc Blanco steals the show and the Fire keep San Jose looking for its first win. Fire 2, Earthquakes 0.

Chivas USA at Columbus Crew

The Goats are flying while the Crew come off a thoroughly disappointing display against the Red Bulls. Was Guillermo Barros Schelotto's poor performance last week just a one-off or a sign of things to come? Unless Schelotto returns to his normally skillful self, Chivas USA will cruise. Chivas USA 2, Crew 0.

Colorado Rapid at New England Revolution

The Revs rebounded from their ugly loss to Chicago by whipping previously unbeaten Kansas City. If New England isn't careful, it just might overlook a Colorado team playing very well early on in the season. The Rapids will have rest on their side, but New England is clicking right now and should hold form at home. Revolution 3, Rapids 1.

Houston Dynamo at Kansas City Wizards

So much for the Wizards going unbeaten. The 3-1 lashing by New England reminded us that Kansas City is still a work in progress, but now the Wizards must rebound against a team going through its own issues in Houston. The Dynamo is dealing with several key injuries as well as the inevitable Champions Cup hangover. Look for the champions to continue struggling while the Wizards get back to their winning ways. Wizards 1, Dynamo 0.

New York Red Bulls at FC Dallas

Two things are clear about FC Dallas early on in the season: That attack is scary, but so is that defense. The Hoops high-flying attack faces Juan Carlos Osorio's improved Red Bulls defense, which will be without suspended central defender Jeff Parke. Dallas will score, but Jozy Altidore will outduel Kenny Cooper as the Red Bulls move to 2-0. Red Bulls 2, FC Dallas 1.

D.C. United at Real Salt Lake

Rice-Eccles Stadium has always caused problems for D.C. The club has lost its past two trips there and faces an RSL squad that is actually improved despite its 0-1-1 record. D.C. will have a Champions Cup hangover and Real Salt Lake will treat its fans to some good soccer, but D.C. will still have too much for RSL to handle. D.C. United 3, Real Salt Lake 2.

Sunday

Toronto FC at Los Angeles Galaxy

David Beckham looks to keep the momentum from last week's win going by facing a team still searching for its first points. Amado Guevara should make his debut here and this could lead to an entertaining game. Look for plenty of goals in this one. Galaxy 3, Toronto FC 2.

Last week: 3-2

Overall: 6-4-1

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives and can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.