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TFC Top 31 Countdown: Number 19 - Joao Plata

Last year he was part of our trio of MVP's but this season things just went so wrong for the pint sized winger. Out of favour, out of form, and then suddenly out of town. His future in Toronto now in doubt he drops into the bottom half of the countdown. At number 19, it's Joao plata.

I miss your smile so much it hurts some times..
I miss your smile so much it hurts some times..

Average Ranking: 19.24
Highest Ranking: 9
Lowest Ranking: 28

Dave: 15 If you look back to just over one year ago and think about Toronto's big win over FC Dallas there is probably one player that stands out the most for his performance on that October night and that would be Joao Plata. He showed all the things that were good about his game in taking control over the must-win match. He was flying down the wing to find spaces but also cutting into the box to cause problems for defenders. He nearly opened the scoring in the first minute when he cut inside and dragged his shot just wide. Then later in the first half he blew past Jeremy Hall before playing the ball back to Danny Koevermans for the games opening goal in the 29th minute. He would get his own name on the score sheet in the second half when he collected a pass from Ryan Johnson in the 69th minute before taking his time and slotting it home from the middle of the box. He wasn't done there though as he wrapped up the win in the 81st minute by stripping the ball off of Jackson before charging in on goal. A little delay, a cut inside, a low shot just out of Kevin Hartman's reach and it was 3-0 with Plata the orchestrator behind all three goals.

That night at Pizza Hut Park it was all smiles and salsa dancing from the winger and was a big part of the reason he endeared himself so quickly to Toronto fans. He was the kind of player who could get fans out of their seat any time he touched the ball, and despite only being a teenager at the time looked like he had what it would take to be a star for Toronto for years to come. So when the club announced that they had secured his services on a permanent basis - he was on loan from LDU Quito in 2011 - it was considered a very good move among fans. Even when reports came out that the club had been forced to pay a substantial fee to secure his services it seemed that he would be worth it in the long run.

The problem was that even when he was having so much success in 2011 almost all of it was coming in cup matches. He first real impact came in the Voyageurs Cup where he set up three of the team's four goals against FC Edmonton before scoring a crucial goal in the finals against the Vancouver Whitecaps. His efforts saw him named the MVP for the tournament and helped to push TFC back into the CONCACAF Champions League. He would go on to score a pair against Real Esteli to help Toronto advance to the group stage, but he saved his best for that night against FC Dallas. Unfortunately the other side of the coin was his league play where he often found his space on the wings a lot more limited and whenever he tried to cut in defenders were sure to make it difficult on him. While he only scored three league goals in 26 appearances, many considered his struggles as him learning to adjust to a new league and playing style.

Bring on 2012, Plata was back with the team and was ready to again be a key player for Aron Winter. After all, the 4-3-3 formation that Winter loved so much was absolutely dependent on having good wingers to create numerical advantages in the attacking third. He got the start in the home leg against the LA Galaxy at the Rogers Centre but only lasted 58 minutes before being replaced by Matt Stinson. The move was probably a bit about Winter trying to shore up the defense to hold his sides 2-1 lead and a bit about the fact that other than a couple half decent runs Plata had been a non-factor in the match. He was back in the starting lineup for the return leg but was almost entirely invisible before being taken off at half time in favour of Luis Silva.

Those two games against LA proved to be more of a sign of things to come for Plata in 2012. After registering 3 league goals and 5 assists in 2011 he failed to register a single goal or assist in his 10 league games in 2012. In his seven league starts he only lasted the full 90 minutes of play on three occasions. Instead, more often than not he was being withdrawn with plenty of time left in the second half. If you take a casual glance at his league stats for 2012, one glaring problem sticks out; he is credited with taking 20 shots but only managed to get 2 of them on target. Only getting 10% of your shots on target is never going to be good enough to make an impact at this level.

His 2012 chalkboards do not do him any favours either. A look at the three league matches where he played all 90 minutes (CLB 3/31, CHV 4/14, CHI 4/21) shows that he was tackled and lost possession 50 times in the three matches. It also shows that he only completed 5 successful crosses to go along with 23 unsuccessful attempts. That is a lot of wasting the ball for one player to be doing and was indicative of the team's early season struggles.

His last league action of 2012 came when he played the first 63 minutes against the Philadelphia Union on May 26th. He was withdrawn for Danny Koevermans who would score the only goal of the game to hand Toronto their first win of the season. Little did we all know that would be the last time we would see Winter on the touch line or Plata storming down the wings as both would leave the club in the coming days and weeks.

Once again he saved his best for the cup, his only goals of the season coming in the first half of the semi final away leg. The first was merely about being in the right place at the right time to head in a rebound from short range, but the second was a seriously nice goal. See it below, as he runs onto a fantastic Nick Soolsma pass and with two defenders bearing down hit is first time, sweeping it just inside the post.

With Winter fired and replaced by Paul Mariner it quickly became evident that certain players, Winter's players, were going to have a hard time finding any playing time for the new coach. This was never more evident than it was with Plata who did not see a single minute under the new coach. He did not get into any of the club's five games during the month of June and was clearly not happy being relegated to a place on the bench.

At the end of June rumours began to circulate that Plata was on his way out of the club and would be returning to LDU Quito for the rest of the season. Just six months after the club had purchased him from the Ecuadorian club it seemed he was going to pack his bags and head back. After what seemed an age of the club saying nope, Plata quite happily tweeting yep, a particularly fiesty post match presser from Paul Mariner and even after LDU Quito officially unveiled him, Toronto finally confirmed that they had indeed sent the winger out on loan for the rest of the season.

Now the question remains of what his future will hold as the club still holds his rights and as of now he is expected to be back for next season. I for one am not counting on him making a return. If the club can find any way to ship him out and cut their loses they will likely take it. It really is a shame that after showing so much promise in 2011 it all went so wrong in 2012 but those wingers can be tricky buggers it seems.

Duncan: 22 Ah big Joao. What happened? That Santos game aside, it was all about the off pitch stuff for Joao Plata. the long drawn out signing, and then the drama about his move back to Ecuador. His tweeting before it was official was a little on the unprofessional side and probably burnt his bridges on a permanent basis as Mariner really wasn't happy. Ah well, thanks for 20111 and all the best to him in the future, I doubt we'll be seeing him again in a TFC strip.

John: 9 Got figured out, and then ran away.

Michael: Made irrelevant under Mariner's system. Supposed to be back…. Right?

Kristin: 23 Sophmore slump hit him hard. Opposing defenders had him figured out, still no left foot and he was mis-used by both Winter & Mariner - should only be a sub to inject energy, never a starter.

The Ghost of TFC Future: Didn't have the best season in the league, especially compared to last year. It seems that MLS defenders caught on to his game. Still, I was sad to see him leave, particularly under the odd circumstances of the situation. The two goals in Mexico kindled a spark of hope in my heart... that the team then subsequently crushed with dispiriting defending.

The Yorkies: Unlike warm air, bad advice does not rise. Los Webster has fallen into the "Where Are They Now?" category.

Casual Soccer Fan: We owe our springtime CCL glories - no matter how fleeting - all to him.

DichioTFC: Our mighty mouse from 2011 turned into Mickey Mouse this season. Quickly tiring of the dreadful season early, he took his figurative ball and went home to Ecuador and LDU Quito. A hero in 2011 for his bravery, flair, ball control and confidence, he took the coward's way out in 2012. He turned his back on this club, his teammates, the staff and, ultimately, turned his back on us as well (the occasional well-intentioned tweet aside). The underlying issue that even the most ardent supporter can't deny is that nobody could really blame him for making that decision. Everyone envies the first person to get off the Titanic and, well, the Plata / TFC analogy writes itself. There's no way around it, mercurial Plata is a key player for Toronto in 2013 IF he wants to come back and IF he wants to stay. Two big questions for a 21 year old kid.

Shem: One of the reasons Winter had top leave is leaving Plata on for too long. Never looked like the future star we say last season.

Prizby: Scored two remarkable goals against Santos Laguna; one of which was assisted by Nick Soolsma wonderfully, Plata was sent back to his previous club after half a season unable to adapt or fit into Mariner’s system or plans. Hopefully after being at home for 6 months, Plata will be yearning to come back to Toronto and prove to fans and club officials that he is here to stay and bring back the flashes of excitement he provided the first year and a half here in Toronto.

MCB: We miss his energy dearly.

Sir Alphonso Applegate: Didn't look all that good before leaving, looked a little poor in the whole leaving fiasco, and now looks unconvincing at LDU Quito

Ignirtoq: If I made the joke "one trick burro", could it be considered racist? The league found out his gimmickery quickly and shut him down. A loan/move/whatever back to Quito was the best possible outcome for his career.

Panos Kelamis: Sophmore slump for the Ecuadorian, although I will miss seeing him at the Eaton Centre ordering happy meals from McDonalds

Number 18: Jeremy Hall

Number 20: Quincy Amarikwa

Full Top 31 Countdown