TORONTO — After fielding the exact same starting lineup the last three games, Toronto FC coach Paul Mariner is looking to shake things up.
Without naming names, Mariner admitted he plans to make a few changes to his starting 11 for Wednesday night’s home contest against Vancouver. But one player who definitely won’t see action against the Whitecaps is forward Joao Plata.
Plata continues to be the hot topic of discussion in TFC circles. The 20-year-old forward posted a message on Twitter prior to the Reds’ 1-1 draw with New York on June 30, stating that he was leaving the Canadian club to join Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito on loan in his native Ecuador. Toronto confirmed during halftime of the Red Bulls match it was working on a loan agreement but that nothing was finalized.
Plata has since travelled to Ecuador where he was photographed holding up his new team jersey at a press conference. Statements on the Quito club’s official website also claimed that the loan deal was completed. Still, TFC reaffirmed Plata was still under contract and that nothing was finalized during a conference call with reporters on July 3.
The MLS club named Plata to its roster for road games against Dallas and Philadelphia last week. Plata did not travel for those matches, and all the while the Reds maintained that the Ecuadorian forward was still a TFC player. Finally the matter appears to be settled, as Toronto is expected to release a statement sometime soon confirming that a deal has been completed.
There’s little doubt that Plata has handled himself poorly during this situation — from prematurely announcing his exit on social media, to returning to his native Ecuador before the loan deal was completed, to skipping out on two MLS games while still a TFC player and leaving his team in the lurch.
And yet despite being shown up by the Ecuadorian, TFC did not consider pulling the plug on the deal with Quito.
TFC previously played hard ball with players over a variety of infractions, namely Dwayne de Rosario, Adrian Cann and Keven Aleman. So why didn’t the MLS club take a hard-line stance and kill the loan deal, thus forcing Plata to return to Toronto?
For one, sending Plata on loan would free up valuable salary cap space and allow the last-place Reds (2-11-4, 10 points) to sign new players. Also, Plata does not figure in Mariner’s current plans, and the English coach believes the Ecuadorian could benefit from a six-month loan spell.
“There are extenuating circumstances about why we’re doing it. We need (him) to develop and we think it’s good for him to go back to his home land with his home club to come back to us in January a better player,” Mariner said.
Mariner’s explanation and reasons are perfectly understandable. He’s trying to build the team up after a horrendous start to the season. He needs to bring in new recruits, and he can’t do that without freeing up salary cap room.
“Do I want to take a hard line? Of course I do. But he’s a (young) kid who has been ill-advised by a couple of people. I don’t want to throw the blame at people, but there is a certain etiquette of going about your business. Major League Soccer and Toronto Football Club, we don’t go about our business in the way it was conducted (by Quito),” Mariner said.
But that’s all the more reason why they should have killed the deal with Quito.
There is a very important principle involved here, one that supersedes the club’s need to strengthen its roster with new signings. Rewarding Plata for his behaviour with a loan move he was obviously eager to see completed sends the absolute wrong message, and gives the impression that TFC is a patsy organization that allows players to walk all over them.
Toronto should have shown the strength of its character, displayed some backbone and cancelled the loan deal. But instead of taking a principled stance, TFC succumbed to its convictions of convenience.
Mariner doesn’t see the inherent danger.
Asked if he felt allowing Plata to go on loan after all that has transpired sets a dangerous precedent, he replied with a straightforward “No.” Mariner gave the same succinct response when asked if he was worried other TFC players in the future might follow Plata’s example.
Time will tell.
NOTES: Canadian midfielder Julian de Guzman told reporters that he is in the early stages of negotiations on a new contract with the club. De Guzman’s current deal expires in December… Defender Adrian Cann (knee) will not be available to play against the Whitecaps, according to Mariner. The Canadian has sat out the last several games after aggravating his knee injury… Mariner stated he feels Dicoy Williams is a week or two away from returning to action on a full-time basis. The Jamaican defender has played only one minute of league action since injuring his knee last June… Goalkeeper Freddy Hall, a Bermudan international, is on trial with the TFC. Most recently, Hall played for English League Two side Northampton Town…