SANTA CLARA, Calif. – During the offseason, Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis and GM Garth Lagerwey talked about helping marquee striker Álvaro Saborío get more looks on goal by complementing him with speed up top to stretch the field.
So they went out and got Robbie Findley back from England and dealt for Toronto FC mighty mite Joao Plata, for starters.
On Sunday night, they saw what they had been missing. After Findley went the opening 65 minutes – 20 more than any preseason shift – Plata’s insertion in the second half immediately gave RSL a spark in a deadlocked game, as the pint-sized Ecuadorian helped open space and pressure San Jose’s backline.
The result? A brace for leading scorer Saborío – with an assist from Plata – that held up as a 2-0 win in the pressure-cooker of Buck Shaw Stadium.
“[Plata] came on the field and made a terrific pass for Sabo to score the goal,” Kreis told reporters of his team’s 71st-minute opener. “In that essence, he did unlock things for us and I think contributed in some defensive ways as well. [I’m] really pleased with his addition and we need to continue to develop him going forward.”
And while Plata was been the spark, Findley provided a glimpse of what he brings back to the table as well after two years in the English second division. A familiar face for Salt Lake, his familiarity with Kreis’ system, as well as with his teammates, gives the Claret-and-Cobalt a weapon they’ve been missing since he left in 2011.
That, said goalkeeper Nick Rimando, is a huge advantage.
“We didn’t have that speedy guy up top to relieve pressure and we don’t miss a beat with him,” the veteran netminder told reporters. “He’s back and knows the system and, being able to hit the ball without even looking up front and know he’s going to chase it down and get us that offensive threat up top, it feels good.”
Findley still isn’t quite 90 minutes fit, and Kreis still wants to see more out of the World Cup veteran – “he needs to look into getting behind a little more,” the coach said – but having speed options to complement the classic target man skills of Saborío is something he’s looking forward to in 2013.
But perhaps more than anything, the fact that RSL opened the season with two road goals against the defending Supporters’ Shield winners bodes even better, especially considering that the Claret-and-Cobalt ended 2012 without a single goal through five straight games in all competitions.
“We put out chances away,” said Rimando, who also logged his 100th career clean sheet on Sunday. “When you’re sound in the back and you get your chances and you put them away, that’s the main goal here. I think last year, we created a lot of chances, but we weren’t putting them away. A team like San Jose, you’re not going to get a lot of them, but when you do you’ve got to put them away.”