Soccer is one of those sports that works just as well for shorter players as it does for taller ones. In fact, some of the best players in the sport in Europe are quite vertically challenged: for example, Arsenal’s 5’6” midfielder Santi Cazorla; Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, who stands at 5’5”; and Lionel Messi, who is arguably the best player in the world despite standing at only 5’7”. In Major League Soccer, shorter players have also succeeded, and on this top 10 list we’ll be ranking the current MLS regulars who are short in stature, but make a huge impact on the pitch.
Rather strangely, only two of the 10 men on this list (Corey Ashe and Ned Grabavoy) are an American, while the rest hail from countries like Colombia, Ecuador and France – a testament to the growing influence of Major League Soccer on foreign players. In particular, one of these 10 men also happens to be arguably the marquee signing of Toronto FC’s offseason. No matter where they’re from, no matter what pedigree they have or what role they play for their respective teams, these 10 MLS regulars have proven that size doesn’t really matter in this league.
They’re not particularly world-class players – with the exception of the player who ranked fourth on this list, perhaps – but that’s not what this list is about. Rather, it focuses on how much shorter MLS players have accomplished despite their lack of height, and how they make up for it on the pitch with their talent, technique and various other attributes. Even if they’re not the men some teams count on to head balls into the back of the net during corner kicks, they can make a name for themselves in many other ways. Here are the 10 players who do the latter.
10. Diego Chara — Portland Timbers — 5’8″
Known best as a holding midfielder, Colombian footballer Diego Chara stands at 5’8”, relatively short when compared to most footballers. However, Chara has seen plenty of success as a member of the Portland Timbers, who he’s been a regular with since he joined the club in 2011. Having previously played the entirety of his club career in his homeland – and having been capped twice by the Colombian national team – Chara is also well-known for being the Timbers’ first Designated Player signing, and has 97 appearances (including 31 last season) for the Timbers since he first joined. Chara also became the second player in Timbers history to have played more than 5,000 minutes.
9. Fabian Castillo — FC Dallas — 5’8″
Colombian forward Fabian Castillo has been making waves in the MLS over the past three years as a member of FC Dallas in ways that the 21-year-old was never able to with Deportivo Cali in his homeland. Standing at 5’8”, Castillo’s numbers this season are on pace to be slightly better than last year: with two goals and one assist in 11 games so far, his pace for both goals and assists combined is one point higher than his tally last year of two goals and six assists in 33 matches (including 26 starts) for Dallas last season.
8. Ned Grabavoy — Real Salt Lake — 5’7″
This native of Joliet, Illinois stands at only 5’7”, but the 30-year-old has learned how to compensate for it over the course of his lengthy MLS career. With previous stints with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Columbus Crew and San Jose Earthquakes under his belt, Grabavoy currently plays with Real Salt Lake, where his versatility, leadership abilities and technique have allowed him to continually be a regular for the team. Of his first 10 games of the season with Salt Lake, Grabavoy is averaging 88.7 minutes per game, getting one goal and two assists in the process after a career year where he played in 33 matches.
7. Mauro Diaz — FC Dallas — 5’7″
Standing at 5’7”, FC Dallas attacking midfielder Mauro Diaz is not tall by any stretch, but his playmaking abilities makes up for it. Leaving River Plate after 70 games and three goals for the club, the Argentine has proven to be an important offensive player for the Hoops, with six goals and five assists in 18 total MLS appearances thus far. The 23-year-old even scored a goal in his first start with Dallas in August of 2012, and is particularly doing well in the first season where he’s been a regular for the team, getting three goals and three assists in his first eight games of the season.
6. Gaston Fernandez — Portland Timbers — 5’7″
Like his countryman Mauro Diaz, Argentine striker Gaston Fernandez first began his club career at Buenos Aires giants River Plate. However, Fernandez experienced success outside of both Argentina and the United States first – he played for several different clubs in Mexico – before joining the Portland Timbers earlier this year. So far, the 30-year-old who stands at 5’7” is off to a good start: in nine appearances for Portland this season, Fernandez has found the back of the net four times out of seven shots on goal. With his MLS career just beginning, expect him to be even more important for the Timbers’ offense as the season continues.
5. Vincent Nogueira — Philadelphia Union — 5’7″
Signing with the Philadelphia Union after a lengthy one-club career at Sochaux, Vincent Nogueira now plies his trade in the MLS despite being a regular for the struggling French side. Thus far, the 5’7” Nogueira is proving himself to be just as much of a mainstay for a Union team that has only won two games out of 17: playing and starting 12 of those games and getting a goal and an assist in the process. The native of Besançon, France has never really been good enough for his homeland’s national team, but his MLS career is certainly going smoothly thus far.
4. Jermain Defoe — Toronto FC — 5’5 1/2″
Jermain Defoe is rather vertically challenged – he stands at a height of only 5’5 1/2” – but his knack for goals is undeniable, both on an MLS level and in England. That’s why the English striker became one of Toronto FC’s three big signings (alongside Michael Bradley and Julio Cesar) during the MLS offseason. Up until picking up a hamstring injury, Defoe had scored three goals in his first four games with TFC. Despite scoring at a frequent pace with his new club in Canada, it wasn’t enough to keep him in Roy Hodgson’s thoughts for England’s 23-man squad at this year’s World Cup, with Defoe being named as a stand-by player instead.
3. Corey Ashe — Houston Dynamo — 5’5″
Corey Ashe hasn’t quite gotten the recognition on an international level that he’s gotten while playing with the Houston Dynamo. The 5’5” left back was called up to Jürgen Klinsmann’s 27-man squad for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, but did not get to play and remains uncapped for the United States national team. The native of Virginia Beach, VA has also been an MLS All-Star and an MLS Cup Champion with the Dynamo, and remains a consistent element of this Houston team as he has been since 2007, playing 90 minutes and starting each of the Dynamo’s 11 games so far this season.
2. Marvin Chavez — Chivas USA — 5’5″
At the beginning of this season, the Honduran midfielder struggled to even get playing time with the Colorado Rapids, only making two substitute appearances for the team before he was traded to Chivas USA in early May. Funnily enough, Chavez played the Rapids in his first game in a Chivas uniform – and scored two goals against them despite only playing 33 minutes as a substitute. The 5’5” winger will be going to Brazil this summer regardless, as he was selected by manager Luis Fernando Suarez to be among Honduras’ 23-man squad for this year’s World Cup, with 37 caps and four goals for his country already under his belt.
1. Joao Plata — Real Salt Lake — 5’2″
By far the shortest player on this list, Ecuadorian footballer Joao Plata stands at just 5’2”, and the winger has done a pretty decent job at establishing himself in Major League Soccer despite his very short stature. With one international cap for Ecuador under his belt, the 22-year-old Plata has been on fire for Real Salt Lake so far this season, with five goals and three assists in seven games, already improving greatly on his four goal and eight assist tally in 29 games from last season. It’s safe to say he won’t be going anywhere – not least back to his Ecuadorian club LDU Quito – anytime soon.