SANDY, Utah – Prior to the latest edition of the Rocky Mountain Cup on Saturday night, Joao Plata had made just 12 appearances for Real Salt Lake this season, totaling all of 186 minutes.

But Plata, whose season has been defined by rumors of a failed summer move to Mexico, didn’t let that stop him in a 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids. Brought on late, he drew a penalty kick and deposited the opener in the 96th minute, lifting his longtime club to a late three points.

It was Plata’s first goal of the 2019 season, a far cry from his 45 goals and 43 assists across from 2013-18 with RSL.

“Plata is a big part of this team, part of this locker room,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said. “Whether he’s been in or not, he’s had his head on his shoulders, he’s working hard. It showed a lot of what we think of Plata to let him step up and take that [penalty] and get him rolling because we know he’s got goals in him and hopefully, that’s the first of many.”

RSL’s usual penalty taker, Albert Rusnak, knew it would be a good idea to let Plata take it to boost his confidence.

“He drew the foul and asked me if he could take the penalty,” Rusnak said. “He came in and in some ways he changed the game. He was a threat going forward. He hasn’t scored in a while. We need him to get back to his best and I believe it’s going to help with his confidence.”

The goal was his first since Aug. 25, 2018, also against Colorado. A calendar year drought for a forward can seem far longer than it actually is, but RSL knows Plata has plenty to add during the Western Conference playoff push.

“Joao came in and did a fantastic job,” RSL assistant coach Tyrone Marshall said. “We ask him to do a job and he came in and run at the back line. We need a guy like that going down the stretch. It made a big difference tonight."