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Ex-TFC defender Dunivant becomes one of league’s best with Galaxy

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Todd Dunivant
Last season, Toronto FC fans watched Marvell Wynne, a defender who was misused in his time with Toronto win an MLS Cup with the Colorado Rapids.

In 2011, Todd Dunivant, another defender whose worth was misjudged in his time with TFC will get the chance to hoist MLS Cup Sunday. His Los Angeles Galaxy is favoured to beat the Houston Dynamo.

His teammate, David Beckham, was named MLS Comeback Player of the Year on Monday; but you could make an argument that it should have been Dunivant, not Becks, who should have got that nod. At 30, Dunivant had his best-ever season in Los Angeles, playing in 33 of 34 games with one of the stingiest defences in North American soccer. He finished fifth in Defender of the Year voting and was named to the league’s Best XI.

Dunivant was traded by then-TFC director of soccer Mo Johnston to Los Angeles in February of 2009. In 2008, Dunivant had missed a lot of time with a broken ankle. But, even before the injury, which happened three months into the season, Dunivant only had five starts. So, the veteran American defender, like Wynne a year later, was sent away for nothing in return.

A little over a year after the deal was made, Brennan had retired and Dunivant was establishing himself as the best left back in MLS.

Remember that Dunivant was brought to TFC to bring veteran leadership to a very green squad. Dunivant was part of the MLS Cup-winning San Jose Earthquakes in 2003, a teammate of Dwayne De Rosario. In 2005, he was part of the Galaxy’s championship team.

Bruce Arena, who was named MLS Coach of the Year on Monday, said that Dunivant’s 2011 season compares to no other.

“He’s been consistent and rock solid,” said Arena in a pre-MLS Cup conference call Monday.

The big change in Los Angeles was that Dunivant was given the opportunity to be a leader. When he got to L.A., the team had the worst defensive record in the league and Arena, who coach Dunivant in New York, surrounded the ex-TFC man and veteran Gregg Berhalter with a boatload of talent, which included Omar Gonzalez (who won Defender of the Year in 2011) , A.J. DeLaGarza and Sean Franklin.

“It was a team mission,” said Dunivant. “The first 15 games, there were a lot of ties, and then we started to grind out some wins.”

And that was the thing; while there was no doubting the talent of DeLaGarza, Gonzalez and Franklin, they were all oh so young. DeLaGarza and Gonzalez were raw rookies and Franklin was one season removed from his Rookie of the Year campaign.

“We had good players, which gave us a good base,” said Dunivant. “We just had to work on it.”

But, in 2011, Berhalter left the field, leaving Dunivant as the elder statesman of the group.

“It has been kind if a process over the last three years, and this has been my best year,” said Dunivant. “I had to step into those shoes; and, if you are directing others, you focus on your own game.”

Throughout the press conference, Arena spoke of Dunivant’s consistency; that he’s as reliable a player as there is in MLS.

“As a defender (consistency is) a good (trait),” said Dunivant. “If you can bring it game in, game out, you limit the other team’s chances.”

He’s made the job of thwarting the other team’s attacks look easy — but it’s part of a long process. And, to be fair, it’s something that likely would have never been realized had he sputtered under a succession of coaches in Toronto, on a team that didn’t have a definitive style until 2011. So, like Wynne, the best thing to happen to Dunivant was getting the ticket out of Toronto.

Now, there’s actually talk of the Dunivant getting capped for the United States, which can use the defensive help. But it’s not a debate that his current Galaxy coach — who is also a former U.S. national team coach — can wade into.

“It’s not my job to comment on who should be playing for the national team,” said Arena. “That’s Jurgen’s (Klinsmann) job.”

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