FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – If Juan Toja knew he could step onto the field and play for 90 minutes without any complications, he would do it in an instant.
He just isn't sure that he's ready for that type of assignment yet.
“I don't know,” the newly arrived New England Revolution man told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “Right now, I want to play tomorrow if I can. The truth is that I'm not completely fit. I must be careful. Trying to play as soon as possible, you can get hurt or make a mistake. I must discuss with the coach. I must see every day how I'm feeling to decide when it is going to be. I hope it will be as soon as possible, for sure.”
Soon stands out as a relative term for a player who hasn't featured in a first-team game since early February. It isn't easy to acquire the proper levels of fitness and sharpness after spending so long on the sidelines. The process requires patience and time.
Revolution coach Jay Heaps said he comprehends the unique demands of the situation. He doesn't want to endanger Toja's fitness by pushing him too quickly. But he also noted that it is hard to exhibit patience when he sees flashes of what Toja can do on the training field.
“He's a little bit of a ways away, but you can see some of his brilliance in training,” Heaps said on Thursday. “We're really excited to see his progression. He got here Monday. He worked hard for two days. Day by day, he's getting better.”
Toja has at least reached the point where Heaps would consider using him as a substitute in certain situations. His Revolution debut could come as soon as Saturday at D.C. United (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), or it could occur at some point down the line, but Heaps said he believes Toja needs some game time to boost his efforts.
“He's going to have to get some of that fitness in the game,” Heaps said. “I see us using him in tactical situations because he's been in every situation. It's just a matter of the fitness and the sharpness.”
Sooner or later, it will return. Toja would prefer the former option, but he understands he may need to sacrifice speed for quality as he attempts to replicate his All-Star form from his previous spell in MLS.
“I'm just trying to get to 100 percent as soon as possible,” Toja said. “I'm not completely fit. But I'm going to start practicing now. Hopefully, in a few days or a few weeks, I will be me again.”