SANDY, Utah — The smallest player in Major League Soccer came up huge Saturday night.
Joao Plata, all 5-foot-2 of him, assisted on both Luis Gil and Javier Morales' goals in Real Salt Lake's 2-0 victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps in front of 17,480 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Gil headed home Plata’s cross just two minutes after halftime, and Morales put the game out of reach with 20 minutes still on the clock as RSL moved to 4-4-2 and Vancouver dropped to 2-4-3 after starting 2013 with back-to-back wins.
Perhaps it was the Canadian side coming out with tired legs after putting in so much effort to beat Edmonton in their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal second leg on Wednesday, but the opening minutes belonged to RSL.
At the half-hour mark, the possession was in favor of the home side – a dominant 72 percent – with the RSL midfield connecting and combining to great effect. Still, once either attack hit the final third, things broke down.
The first shot on goal of the match didn't come until the 32nd minute. And while RSL had only two shots on target in the first half, Vancouver finished without an attempt on goal and only four total shots.
If the opening half was a little lackluster, the second half began with a bang. Real burst from the locker room with a goal in the 47th minute when Nick Rimando delivered a ball that perhaps no other 'keeper in the league could have provided.
From an goal kick, Rimando opted for a quick restart and hit the ball into space 60-yards upfield to an open Plata. The diminutive Ecuadorian settled and hit a beautiful, bending ball to the center of the box. Gil, meanwhile, timed his run to perfection and beat goalkeeper Joe Cannon to the ball, heading it in off the right post and into the net for the 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately, Gil was injured on the play as he and Cannon collided. The scorer subbed out only minutes later for Sebastian Velasquez.
The goal opened things up as Vancouver began pressing for an equalizer, and the Whitecaps came inches away from leveling things in the 62nd minute.
A long ball found Corey Hertzog and with Chris Schuler chasing, the striker got a touch on the ball just as Rimando and the trailing defender reached him. The ball snuck through and was headed toward the net before a sliding Nat Borchers cleared it off the line.
Vancouver continued to press and created a few more quality chances in the process, but left their lines stretched and opened themselves up to the counterattack.
RSL took advantage of the space and scored the insurance goal in the 71st minute. Morales started and finished the play, sending a ball wide to Velasquez, who found Plata in time for the midfielder to deliver a ball directly to the feet of the Argentine. All it took from there was a professional finish to tuck the ball away into the bottom left corner.
Following the win, Real will now prepare for a midweek clash at New England on Wednesday. Vancouver will host the defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy next Saturday.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Joao Plata||Javier Morales and Luis Gil may have scored the goals, but Plata put the ball on a platter for both. RSL need more of that.|
|2||Javier Morales||Unlucky not to have multiple goals. On yet another night without Saborio, he was the most dangerous goal threat on the field.|
|3||Nat Borchers||RSL's defense had a pretty calm night, but let's give credit where credit is due. Borcher cleared the line once and kept Hertzog in check.|