TORONTO — A new star may have been born in Toronto on Saturday night.
After playing limited minutes during the first seven weeks of the season, Ecuadorian striker Joao Plata — easily the most diminutive player in MLS at just 5-foot-3-inches tall — took full advantage of his first league start with an inspired performance in Toronto FC's 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo.
Speaking through an interpreter, the 19-year-old forward said that he gives a lot of credit to head coach Aron Winter for his development so far.
“Before the game I said that if I scored today I would dedicate the goal to Aron Winter for the confidence he has shown in me,” he said.
WATCH: Full match highlights
Plata scored a goal — his first in MLS play — and added an assist after consistently causing the Dynamo fits down the left flank all game long, and his efforts did not go unnoticed by the near-capacity crowd at BMO Field, who roared every time he touched the ball and gave him a lengthy standing ovation when he left the pitch deep in second-half stoppage time.
Following his goal from the penalty spot in the 50th minute after Houston's Andre Hainault hauled down Jacob Peterson, Plata sprinted to the sidelines to give both Winter and assistant coach Bob De Klerk a high-five.
It was a perfect anecdote to his energetic night and it further endeared him to the BMO Field faithful. Even the normally straight Winter couldn’t help but smile when asked to talk about Plata’s game.
“Yeah, I’m happy with his performance," Winter said. "He played well."
Plata later added an assist to Maicon Santos, deftly placing a forward pass into the path of his teammate despite being hindered by a Houston defender. He also had an earlier shout for another penalty, though the call was reversed after the linesman called him offside.
However, Winter cautioned fans to not expect similar performances from Plata every week.
“You have to be careful with guys like that,” Winter said. “You have to remember that he’s still young.”
Still, with injuries to several players, including forward Alan Gordon, and a brutal stretch of five games in 11 days facing the Reds, Winter may have to look to Plata. If that’s the case, the player said he’ll be ready.
“I’m always confident in my abilities,” Plata said.