Forgive the first person narrative, but I feel it’s more in tune with the tone of this post.
Back in March, as Joao Plata was making his first appearance for Salt Lake at the start of the season, I found myself pondering whether TFC would regret letting the little man go for a paltry price – a mere second-round pick.
In retrospect there was one paragraph that stood out, it read, "Here’s hoping that Salt Lake’s possession-based, pass-and-move style more suits the man’s talents and provide a better system within which Plata can flourish."
And with his return to Toronto on Saturday, it is a good time to review how he has done this season.
The Raw Figures
Plata has played a total of 828 minutes, encapsulating fourteen appearances, nine of which were starts.
He has one goal – it was a game-winner - and his four assists – two of which were game-winning assists – are behind only Javier Morales’ five for the team lead and is tied for first at the club for assists per ninety minutes.
His 28 shots are good enough for third most at the club, twelve of them on target - nearly 43%.
Interestingly, he has only suffered eight fouls this season, one less than he has committed.
The Video Action
In the season opener, Salt Lake looked destined for a scoreless draw in San Jose until Plata received a ball in the centre-circle, did well to corral it and played a wonderful ball over the top to spring Alvaro Saborio to open the scoring.
In the third weekend of action, Plata again played provider, setting up Saborio again to salvage a point at home against Colorado.
Salt Lake were struggling to break through the congested lines of the Rapids defense, but an intelligent little ball laid down the outside of the box sets up the Costa Rican – note the celebratory dancing.
Several weeks later he helped easily dismantle a sub-par Vancouver, factoring in on both goals in a 2-0 victory at home.
The first came on a quick break before delivering an inviting cross for Luis Gil.
And the second after some incredibly patient and creative passing that backed Vancouver deep into their own box – Plata himself delivered the final ball for Morales to double the lead.
Two weeks later he finally nabbed a goal himself, away to Chivas in Salt Lake 1-4 win in Los Angeles, after Beckerman cut out a pass with a header that played Plata down the left, where he duly dispatched the chance.
It was Salt Lake’s second goal of the night and, as such, ended up being the game-winner.
At the start of this month, though he did not factor on the scoresheet, it was his brilliant dummy that led to Ned Grabavoy’s goal.
And it was his penetration, prior to Robbie Findley’s goal, which drew the defenders so deep and opening up the space for the shot.
For those keeping track, Plata has been responsible for ten points – through either game-winning goals or assists – at Salt Lake this season. Not that it is particularly relevant, but TFC with ten more points would be sitting on the verge of the playoff line.
More pertinent is that Salt Lake acquired ten points in exchange for a second-round draft pick – that is how a club is successful in MLS.
Was he ever likely to succeed in this Anglo-centric system that try as they might Toronto cannot seem to abandon? Probably not, but some of us will always remember him fondly – and he, despite the fractious departure, enjoyed his time here too.
I for one will be happy to see him back on the pitch at BMO tomorrow. No doubt he will play some role in tomorrow’s outcome.