Speed and skill can trump size and power. Whether it’s David taking down Goliath, the Greek army defeating the Persians in the Battle of Marathon, or whether it’s Jerry handling Tom, history – or classic cartoons – shows that it doesn’t always take brute strength to defeat brute strength.
Last year in MLS, FC Dallas playmaker David Ferreira showed that, despite carrying an unthreatening 5-foot-5, 153-pound frame, he was very dangerous to opposing defenses. Proof of that is his 2010 MLS MVP trophy, which he won for scoring eight goals and notching 13 assists en route to FCD's record 19-game unbeaten streak and the MLS Cup Final.
This year, there’s a smaller but hugely talented man trying to get the better of the league’s biggest defenders: Toronto FC’s Joao Plata.
At 5-foot-3 and around 145 pounds, Platita (Little Silver) is usually dwarfed by guys like LA Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez, Real Salt Lake’s Jamison Olave and FC Dallas’ George John. Still, undeterred, Plata relies on speed and dribble to run at – and sometimes right past – the bigger men.
“Nobody ever is going to give you anything,” Plata told MLSsoccer.com. "This is a tough league, it’s really competitive and you’ve got to prepare yourself well throughout the week."
A product from Ecuadorian side Liga de Quito, Plata admits the adjustment to playing against the usually bigger, more physical defenders in MLS hasn’t been easy. Nevertheless, “I train every week to play against anyone and, if I go against the tallest or the shortest player, I’m going to approach it just the same,” Plata said.
For Toronto head coach Aron Winter – who plucked the leading scorer from this year's MLS Combine with the 49th overall pick in the SuperDraft – size has nothing to do with the success a player can have.
“It doesn’t matter if you are small to have difficulties in this league,” Winter told MLSsoccer.com. “Watch Barcelona – Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, they’re all small, but finally they became the best players of the world.
“Even though Plata is so small, he’s a very strong guy and he’s fast and he’s good on the dribble," Winter added. "The most important thing is that he gets some minutes. But we’ve got a lot of time to bring him in. To develop a very fine player, you need longer.”
That’s exactly what the coach is doing.
Plata has played in four of Toronto’s eight regular-season matches thus far, for a total of 63 minutes. Last week, the diminutive Ecuadorian saw his most action in a single game all year while playing a crucial role in the Reds’ dominating 3-0 Nutrilite Canadian Championship first-leg semifinals win at FC Edmonton.
Plata got the starting nod, his passing was sharp throughout the night and he played a role in all three of the team’s goals before coming off late in the second half. At home against Edmonton in the second leg on Wednesday, he’s again expected to play a Man-of-the-Match quality role as he continues his progress.
If all continues to go well, he could very soon be making a bigger impact in MLS with the Reds.
“Plata is very young. He needs more time, he has to learn more things,” said Winter. “But I think he has all the qualities he needs to make it very difficult for all the league – and tall guys.”