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Wednesday 19 October 2011

Rookie of the Year – The Drafting of Joao Plata

    Preposterous… ridiculous… impossible?

    True, and unless an exception is made to the rules he is ineligible as his time spent playing in his native Ecuador for LDU Quito will rule him out of contention – the rookie of the year must have not previously been a ‘professional’ - as was the case for Taylor Twellman in 2002 - due to his time with the 1860 Munich reserve team.

    Based on statistical data from league action Plata trails other candidates numerically. He does not have the most appearances – twenty-five vs. thirty-three: CJ Sapong has appeared in every match – nor starts – twenty vs. twenty-eight: AJ Soares and Perry Kitchen, nor the most goals – three vs. five: Sapong again and Will Bruin – but he is tied for the most assists – again with Sapong at five for the season.

    Before the award is handed over to Sapong, a closer examination of the Plata story is in order.

    Joao Plata was selected forty-ninth overall with Toronto FC’s fourth pick of the draft after an impressive showing at the combine that saw him score three goals in three matches. He was allowed to fall so low in the draft due to his diminutive stature - five-feet, two-inches – as there were concerns that he would not be able to flourish in a league deemed by many to be overly physical. Even for Toronto, it was a last-minute draft day trade that saw TFC acquire a third third-round selection in exchange for Jon Conway from Chicago Fire, only then did they take a flier on him with the last of those three.

    Of the ten players drafted in his vicinity – five on either side – five of them were never offered a contract – including a fellow TFC draftee, one was waived midway through the season only to resign with the club’s PDL side, while the other four are still with their respective clubs. Two of those have yet to make a league appearance – Konrad Warzycha in Kansas City and Alan Koger in New England; with Robert’s son having been lost for the season to a knee injury and Koger taking the field in a US Open Cup match, even scoring a goal in a 3-2 win over DC.

    The two remaining players from picks forty-four to fifty-four to have stayed with their clubs are DC United’s Joe Willis and Columbus’ Bernardo Anor. Willis made his first start in United 4-0 win over Vancouver, earning Man of the Match honours and following it up with two losses when Bill Hamid was injured and Steve Cronin was out of favour following a poor performance against Toronto. Anor has made thirteen appearances - six of them starts – contributing a goal and an assist; both coming in a 2-0 win over Houston on June 18th that saw him earn Player of the Week honours in Round Fourteen.

    Fairly impressive stuff from such lowly draft picks considering the fates of some of their counterparts. Not to be outdone Plata too earned Player of the Week recognition in his first start on May 9th vs. – oddly enough – Houston as his goal and assist earned Toronto a 2-1 win, as well as taking home the George Gross Memorial Trophy for the Most Valuable Player in the Voyageur’s Cup (NCC).

    Stats and honours are nice, but Plata’s real value has been what he has meant to the side. Toronto has been going through a rough period of their existence, the new shine has been dulled by failure, the stench of past incarnations, and the suspicions of the front office’s capabilities have depressed the normally raucous fan-base.

    Plata – and the draft in general – was the first introduction to the Aron Winter, Bob de Klerk, and Paul Mariner epoch at BMO Field. And in those dark times as the triumvirate of power found their footing at their new home it was Plata that provided a spark.

    His small stature and big heart, his passion – a highly-prized asset in Toronto - and his showmanship lifted the docile crowd, stirring them from their apathetic slumber, reminding them of what they were there for.

    The malaise they had been feeling vanished in the sunshine of his joy for the game, his willingness to try something, to make mistakes, get knocked over, but come right back and have another go.

    An attitude exemplified by his spot kick in the second leg of the Voyageur’s Cup Final: His first attempt well-saved by Joe Cannon, who was adjudged to have left his line prematurely, given a second chance, Plata, without a slightest self-doubt, sent the veteran keeper the wrong way as his low shot - Toronto’s equalizer - found the back of the net. Then it was his low cross that found Mikael Yourassowsky trailing the action at the back post to score the eventual winner.

    Plata highlighted one of the wonderful things about this sport. That one need not be a gargantuan physical freak to excel in this game; that variety, intelligence, and even desire are leveling factors in an age where most sports are beyond the attributes of the average human. One need not be seven-feet tall, one need not be a muscle-bound hulk; Soccer (football) takes all sorts.

    As if all this was not enough to earn the little man a big spot in all TFC fan’s hearts there came last night’s match. The Biggest Game Ever; the postseason out of reach and progression in the CONCACAF Champions League on the line and Señor Plata, fresh from a hamstring injury, returns to the lineup ready for his self-proclaimed “biggest game of his TFC career” declaring himself of having “high expectations” for their chances in the cavernous – and empty – confines of Pizza Hut Park.

    It was his pass that led to the opener – Danny Koevermans put it home on the second time of asking – and then it was Plata himself that clinched the result halfway through the second stanza, and then proclaimed it fact in the final ten minutes. 3-0 to Toronto FC in Dallas, a marvelous feat for a side that has been woeful on the road all season and the butt of many a joke by the rest of the league.

    He may not be eligible for rookie of the year, even if he was he may not win it, but without doubt the drafting of Joao Plata has been the highlight of Toronto’s season. Perhaps his flourishing could be deemed the story of the year, as fans of every team have marveled at his play, and should find themselves asking ‘why did we not select him?’ and looking over their future draftee’s with a keen eye pondering ‘could he be another one?’

    CJ Sapong will probably win the award, but the story of Sporting’s season is that of Livestrong Park – their new home – and of a long road trip and glorious home form. Perry Kitchen could win, but DC’s story is of Davies and De Rosario and of one of their own, Ben Olsen, in charge. AJ Soares is another candidate, but New England’s tale is of Steve Nicol’s struggles, veterans too long in the tooth and of Diego Fagundez. Will Bruin, the dancing bear, is just a sidebar to the Dynamo’s exploits. But Plata has been almost everything to Toronto.  

    In the words of the great man “Buenos Noches, friend the Twitter, Vamos TFC”.

    “Vamos Platito!!!”, is all one can reply.   

Side note – MLS seems to have encouraged new players joining the league to get themselves on Twitter. Virtually every member of the rookie class – English speakers – is there; Plata is one of the few Spanish speakers to have taken that plunge.


  1. agreed. a really good read. It wasn't just the fans that he shook out of their malaise, when he first broke through, the players clearly loved him as well.

    really really hope we can sign him long term.

  2. Thanks.

    He definitely is beloved by his teammates as well as the fans. That little dance he does puts a smile on everyone's face.

    I haven't really heard how he even ended up here, the story behind how he got into the combine would be an interesting one. I too hope he's here next season and many more.