Climbing the Ladder: MLS player heights & First Kick XIs

Size isn’t everything – as it turns out.

Three of 2011’s best MLS teams were also the shortest. Real Salt Lake finished last season as the league’s shortest team at an average of 70.64 inches, followed by FC Dallas and LA. Meanwhile, Portland were the tallest with an average of 72.11 inches. They were one of four teams to finish above six feet. Overall, the league average was 71.43 inches.

2011 Average Team Heights in Inches
Rank Team Height
1 Portland 72.11
2 Kansas City 72.08
3 Columbus 72.06
4 Houston 72.06
5 New England 71.76
6 Chicago 71.73
7 Seattle 71.70
8 New York 71.55
9 Vancouver 71.36
10 Philadelphia 71.34
11 San Jose 71.25
12 Chivas USA 71.07
13 Colorado 71.06
14 Toronto 71.06
15 D.C. United 71.04
16 LA Galaxy 71.03
17 FC Dallas 70.81
18 Real Salt Lake 70.64

These averages were calculated by taking the listed heights of each player from 2011 media guides (or when not available, from MLSsoccer.com’s profiles). Each player’s height was multiplied by minutes played, then the team totals were added together and divided by the entire team’s minutes played. Doing it this way means that playing time was taken into account.

The tallest players used last season were goalkeepers Jon Conway and Greg Sutton, who both measured 6-foot-6. The tallest non-keepers were a trio of center backs, Bobby Burling, Omar Gonzalez and Andy Iro, who all came in at 6-foot-5.

As for the shortest player, that distinction belonged to Toronto FC’s Joao Plata. At only 5-foot-2, he claimed that title easily and earned the distinction as the league’s all-time shortest player, as well as the shortest player in the five major American sports leagues.

There’s certainly nothing stopping a talented player who also happens to be short from succeeding, as the likes of Leo Messi have shown. In MLS, 5-foot-5 David Ferreira was the 2010 Most Valuable Player, while 5-foot-7 Jeff Cunningham is the league’s all-time leading scorer.

The shortest goalkeeper in 2011 was 5-foot-9 Nick Rimando, who happens to be listed at 5-foot-11 on US Soccer’s web site. He was also listed at 5-foot-10 during his time with D.C. United. Either he’s getting smaller, or someone’s exaggerating a bit.

Which teams have returned the most starters from one opening day to the next?

Of the 16 teams in action during the regular season’s first weekend, it was the Colorado Rapids who fielded the lineup that most resembled the one they put out on opening day in 2011.

Despite hiring a new head coach in Oscar Pareja, eight of the same starters were in the lineup for both the 3-1 victory against Portland one year ago and the 2-0 win over Columbus on Saturday. Only Conor Casey, Jamie Smith and Anthony Wallace were missing, and all three are still with the team – they just missed out due to injury.

The average MLS team returns 4.87 starters from one opening day to the next. While there have been plenty of teams to keep a consistent core of players throughout the years, none have ever used the exact same starting XI for two consecutive openers.

The highest number of starters to return for one team from one year to the next is nine, which was achieved by two teams: Chicago in 2007 and Columbus in 2009. The 2007 Fire had a different goalkeeper, starting Matt Pickens after trading Zach Thornton, and they also played Chris Armas in the midfield instead of playmaker Thiago. Armas had missed the 2006 opener with one of his frequent injuries.

As for the 2009 Crew, who were only months removed from their MLS Cup triumph, they were missing Stefani Miglioranzi (traded) and Adam Moffat (injured), and used Gino Padula and Emmanuel Ekpo instead.

On the other hand, despite the radical makeovers that struggling teams sometimes undergo in the offseason, no team has ever fielded a completely different team from a previous opening day either. However, five teams have only returned one player. They are 2001 D.C. United (Carey Talley), 2004 Dallas (Ronnie O’Brien), 2006 Chivas USA (Brad Guzan), 2008 LA (Landon Donovan) and 2011 Chivas USA (Ante Jazic).

Flores the latest player to change names

A player by the name of Jorge Villafaña was on the bench for Chivas USA against Houston this past Saturday, but it wasn’t a new signing. It was actually Jorge Flores, the 2007 Sueño MLS winner who now is his team’s most tenured player. He changed his last name in the offseason to honor his mother.

It’s not the first time an MLS player has played under a different name. There are at least two others in recent years.

Drafted at the age of 15, Abdus Ibrahim made his debut for Toronto in 2008. From the next season on, he would be known as Fuad Ibrahim instead after “a suggestion from his mother.” Fuad means heart in Arabic.

There’s also the case of Peguero Jean-Philippe, though it didn’t involve an actual name change. In his first stint in the league from 2004-06, he was known as Jean-Phillipe Peguero. Why? Well, after joining San Jose in 2008 (and using up a precious allocation despite playing only a handful of games), it came to light that his name had been written backwards the entire time he was in Colorado and New York. Minor oversight.