TORONTO, Ont.—#TFCLive was set ablaze on Tuesday when reports out of Spain surfaced that RCD Espanyol attacker Pablo Piatti was on his way to Toronto to undergo a medical and sign a contract to join the Reds.
Toronto FC linked with @RCDEspanyol’s Pablo Piatti — a LW who could play as a FWD.— Michael Singh (@MichaelSingh94) February 4, 2020
31 in March, he’d check all the boxes #TFCLive were looking for. Keep an eye https://t.co/4rJRXqtM2k
Today, multiple reports state that Piatti was indeed in Toronto to complete his medical.
So with that in mind, let’s give you the rundown: Who is Pablo Piatti and can he bring to the Reds?
- Name: Pablo Daniel Piatti
- Date of birth/Age: Mar 31, 1989 (30)
- Place of birth: La Carlota, Argentina
- Height: 5’3”
- Position: Left Winger / ST
- Foot: Both
- Current Team/League: RCD Espanyol (La Liga)
Piatti (not to be confused with former Montreal Impact’s Ignacio Piatti) is an Argentinian left-winger, currently playing for RCD Espanyol in Spain’s La Liga. Reminiscent of another past TFC designated player, Piatti stands at just 5 ft. 3 inches tall and is excellent with both of his feet. He’ll turn 31 at the end of March making him the same age as current TFC designated player Jozy Altidore and two years older than Alejandro Pozuelo.
Piatti also has a one-year-old child, which is important to note because that has been a selling point for Toronto FC in the past: having players buy-in to the fact that Toronto is the perfect place for a child to grow up, as The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke mentioned in his piece on the Reds’ potential designated player search last week.
Toronto FC’s officials have all stressed the significance of bringing in a player who not only compliments the team on the pitch but also one that fits in well in the locker room—bringing in another new father isn’t a bad start.
While you may not be familiar with him here in North America, in Europe and South America, Pablo Piatti was a near-household name.
In 2016-17, Piatti was named to the UEFA La Liga Team of the Season, alongside, well, a pretty recognizable group.
Jan Oblak (Atlético Madrid); Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Piqué (Barcelona), Filipe Luis (Atlético Madrid); Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Manu Trigueros (Villarreal), Pablo Piatti (Espanyol); Leo Messi, Luis Suárez (Barcelona) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid).
That was less than three years ago—in arguably the most talented league in the world.
Prior to that, Piatti had been making waves as a youngster, even at BMO Field. He was the youngest player on Argentina’s 2007 U-20 FIFA World Cup-winning side (in Toronto), a side that included the likes of Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Paris Saint-Germain’s Angel DiMaria.
Club wise, he started off his senior career at just 17 years old, under the guidance of one the world’s best at Estudiantes in Argentina: current Atlético Madrid manager Diego Simeone.
After finding success in his homeland, the talented youngster would make the leap to the formidable La Liga in Spain with a smaller in club, Almería, in hopes of getting more playing time. His wish was granted as he quickly became a budding young star in the Spanish league; in fact, while at the club, Sky Sports News wrote an article on Piatti calling him one of the “biggest young talents in Europe.”
He would eventually earn a move to a more competitive Valencia CF three years later in 2011, where he spent five seasons—an up-and-down stint. He was coached by more of the world’s best in former Arsenal manager Unai Emery, former FC Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde, in addition to Manchester United legend Gary Neville. He also played alongside some of soccer’s more recognizable stars: Barcelona defenders Jordi Alba and Jeremy Mathieu, and former Manchester United and current Orlando City FC winger Nani (among many more).
After appearing in 162 matches for the club, he was loaned in 2016 (with a buyout clause) to RCD Espanyol where he’d go on to impress to the tune of 10 goals and 11 assists in his opening 30 La Liga matches with the club—the only midfielder in the league to notch double-digit goals and assists, earning the aforementioned UEFA La Liga Team of the Season honours.
Since then, after RCD Espanyol made his move permanent in 2017, Piatti has gone on to appear in 64 matches in all competitions in a two-and-a-half year stint that has been plagued by injury.
If you glance at Piatti’s injury history on his transfermarkt page, you may notice that he’s been prone to pick up knocks. In fact, as The Toronto Sun’s Steve Buffery pointed out in his article this morning, Piatti has picked up more than 15 injuries since 2014-15.
However, upon further diagnosis, it appears that the numbers may be slightly deceiving.
Of those 15 injuries, five of them forced Piatti to only miss one game or less, while six more of them cost him five matches or less.
But one of his latest injuries is a cause for concern. On Feb. 10, 2019 (almost a year ago to this day), Piatti suffered a cruciate ligament rupture which had him sidelined until September. He made it through his rehab only to pick up another muscle injury in October that cost him another month.
Since then, the Argentinian winger has been healthy for RCD Espanyol, but has struggled to find consistent opportunity, playing just 229 minutes across seven matches.
The Reds have recently gambled on someone coming off a cruciate ligament rupture in the past and it dramatically paid off (Victor Vazquez), who’s to say that they can’t do it again?
With that said, and while he does need to still pass his medical, it’s a fair cause for concern for a club who has been haunted by muscle injuries to their designated players in the past: you can even argue it cost them the 2019 MLS Cup.
WHAT YOU COULD EXPECT
Built like a pit bull with speed to burn, if healthy, Piatti is the type of player Toronto FC need: someone who can both run and play inbetween lines.
Appearing in roughly 300 La Liga matches or so, the 5’3” winger has been exposed to a fluid type of football; as such, it’s safe to assume that Piatti is a smart player (compared to MLS standards, at least). But if you watch his highlight videos, what stands out isn’t necessarily his thought process, though he shows flashes of brilliance, but rather his raw ability.
Despite his size, and aside from his blistering pace, I also noticed that is that he isn’t afraid to stick his foot into a challenge, which is perhaps the reason he has picked up so many injuries. Capable of going either left or right, Piatti will try to take every inch of grass that he can get with his speed, and if given enough time and space, he has the quality (either with a cross or a shot) to make oppositions pay.
And while I mentioned his experience in arguably the most skillful league in the world (he also has 13 UEFA Champions League appearances under his belt, something I don’t believe anyone on Toronto FC’s current roster can lay claim to), the one thing I’m not yet convinced of is his creativity.
It appears Piatti can shoot, cross, and run exceptionally well, but does he possess the game-breaking ability to create that crucial pass or dribble the final third? We’ll have to wait and see—or maybe not. Greg Vanney’s side has an abundance of playmaking midfielders, led by Pozuelo; if Piatti is the player that Toronto FC do get, he’s likely optimal to fill the void down the left side as someone getting on to the end of passes, as opposed to spraying them.
In my opinion, if he does make the move to MLS, Piatti would be one of the most impactful players in the league, especially in this current TFC setup. He possesses a better perception and understanding of the game than most here in North America and he’s more skilled than 95 per cent of the league (just by virtue of the eye-test against much tougher competition).
Moreover, don’t be afraid of his stats. While his recent goal totals don’t ring any bells (again in La Liga for the current last-place team), he has the desire to get in the box and it’s hard to see it not translating well into goals and assists in MLS, as we saw last season with Pozuelo and many others in the past who have not put up scorching numbers in tougher leagues.
Pablo Piatti's 2018-19 La Liga radar (in ~800 minutes). Solid dribbler, gets into the box regularly and creates a fair amount. #TFCLive pic.twitter.com/n0ZS3fQ7Lr— Peter Galindo (@GalindoPW) February 5, 2020
Piatti is out of contract with RCD Espanyol at the end of June, where he is free to join any club on a free transfer. However, several reports have mentioned that Espanyol have actually granted Piatti the ability to leave for free before then, citing the team’s desire to rid his wages off the books, which makes sense with relegation for the club on the horizon.
Essentially, this deal comes down to whether or not TFC believes in Piatti’s health. Following the medical, which included a checkup by Toronto Raptors physiotherapist Alex McKechnie, does the club believe that the speedy 30-year-old can make an impact following his recent series of injuries?
We’ll wait and see, but it’s certainly nice to see that TFC’s hunt for their next designated player is coming to a close sooner rather than later.