Going into 2015 everyone had high hopes that Joao Plata would challenge everyone for the MLS Golden Boot; everything seemed to be going great during the buildup to preseason, then everything got derailed on the first day of training by a metatarsal fracture on his left foot which meant one of the biggest cogs in RSL's machine would be absent for the first quarter of the season. Ironically, on the very day of the injury it was announced that RSL had negotiated a multi-year "Young Designated Player" contract to keep the pint-sized Ecuadoran on the team for the foreseeable future.
2015 Player Profiles: Joao Plata becomes an unstoppable force
To compound the injury was the plans to introduce the team to using a new 4-3-3 formation to best utilize Plata, Saborio and Jaime. With one key piece of that trio missing, Coach Cassar had little recourse but to put Olmes Garcia in place and hope that he could step up his game. Well we all know how well that went. During Plata's absence RSL's home record was 1-1-3, and a +0 goal differential (excluding the game he made his return in, a 2-0 win vs NYCFC). Away from the RioT, the record was 2-2-1 with a -4 goal differential thanks to a 4-0 pasting from the Revolution.
MLS 24 Under 24 - #9: Joao Plata
He was a rather slow to come back; much to fan's chagrin, and didn't net his first goal for nearly two months - 9 games later in a 2-0 win vs the Houston Dynamo during mid July. However he became an important piece in linking up with Javier Morales, Sebastian Jaime, and later Juan Manuel Martinez; in those two months after his return he tallied up 3 assists, took 19 shots (6 on goal), and drew 15 fouls; ending up the season with 4 goals, 4 assists, 37 shots (14 on goal), and drawing 23 fouls in 19 games (1,431 minutes). He also notched the only; and arguably the most important winning goal, in the CONCACAF Champions League game vs F.C.D. Municipal in Guatemala. That was a key win that put RSL through to the knockout rounds.
We are left to wonder what might have been if he'd been for the start of the year.
Plata nets free-kick goal vs Colorado Rapids October 4, 2015.
Outlook for 2016? Well, to revise my final quote from last year's review:
We can expect that he, Jaime and Martinez will continue to partner well (presuming the formation remains the same). Teams are more wary of him now which may lead to a drop-off in goals, but his speed and footwork will still prove enough to reach double-digits. It's also possible that he'll get a call-up for the Ecuador National Team for their World Cup Qualifying; (particularly if his production increases), which means we'll lose him for a portion of the season unless MLS takes time off for the FIFA windows. All in all, 2016 should be very promising and productive for Joao Plata.