SANDY, Utah -- If Real Salt Lake are going to make a push into the playoffs, they'll be well served if Joao Plata is going to knock in goals like the match opener he scored in RSL’s 4-1 win Saturday over the Colorado Rapids.
The forward has found his expected form after an early season injury, some getting to know you struggles with head coach Mike Petke, and rumors of a move to Liga MX.
Petke illustrated the changes that have taken place over the last few months while reflecting on Plata’s substitution in the 73rd minute.
“If I would have taken Plata when I did tonight in my first couple of games we probably would have had a fist fight, but he was all smiles now because it’s about the team,” Petke said.
The team has changed a lot in that time, as has Plata. Earlier in the year he was criticized publicly by Petke over arriving late to practice, but now he has been able to use that time during the week to find his rhythm.
“It’s work in the week,” Plata said about the reason for his and the team’s good form of late. “We’re training Monday to Friday and are ready for Saturday. If you want to be in the playoffs you have to start winning games and that’s key.”
Plata has scored five goals in Salt Lake’s last nine games and has added a handful of assists over the same time period, but RSL has also been bolstered by the addition of Jefferson Savarino to pair opposite Plata. The loan that brought Savarino into the fold has helped the offense find itself along with the insertion of Luis Silva as the lone forward up top.
Saturday’s game against Colorado was a good example of that multi-faced attack. Petke explained knowing just how to attack based on Marlon Hairston and Mekeil Williams as the outside backs, and the opportunity it gave Plata and Savarino to open up space and find holes when Colorado sat back.
“We knew right away when we saw the lineup,” Petke said. “Hairston is not a natural defender, we understood that his physical attributes could match up with Plata and he would be an option on the counter attack the other way. Then they put someone like Williams on the other side who is very much a stay-at-home outside back that likes to battle and they were worried about Plata and Savarino.
"So today the message was to mix up between staying wide for us to isolate and making those runs centrally because their center backs don’t like to be pulled out.”
Salt Lake has now scored four goals in consecutive home games, secured the Rocky Mountain Cup, and is one point out of sixth place for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Plata has been one big piece of that, and will be counted on to continue his form.