SANDY, Utah – If there's any lingering doubt about who makes Real Salt Lake tick, Tuesday night again showed that it's Joao Plata.
The Ecuadorian forward came off the bench to score a goal, then assist on the equalizer as RSL came back from 2-0 down to force extra time and win 3-1 in a shootout over the USL's Wilmington Hammerheads in the Claret-and-Cobalt's 2016 US Open Cup debut.
"It took us 45 minutes to get our heads out of our butts," Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar said.
Plata and Yura Movsisyan came off the bench in the 56th minute and added the needed spark to an RSL attack which had been "pedestrian, too slow and predictable" up to that point, according to Cassar.
Plata added just the speed, creativity and danger the Salt Lake attack needed. First he laced a goal into the top corner at the near post in the 64th minute to make it a 2-1 game. In the dying moments, "Burrito" Martinez curled a shot inside the far post in the 87th minute to equalize at 2-2.
"When defenders fear the attacking player, [the attackers] win a psychological battle," Cassar said. "Once we made some changes, the tides changed and we became much more aggressive. We played at a speed that at the end of the day they couldn't handle."
Scoring chances and possession favored RSL over the last 50 minutes of extra time and regulation, and that didn't change in the shootout.
Real Salt Lake's clinical shootout performance made up for their less-than-stellar first 45 minutes.
"Jeff's got a presence in the goal," Cassar said. "I think him going the right way even when they missed high, that kind of plays into it. His save was beautiful and big time."
Salt Lake will host the Portland Timbers on Saturday (10 pm ET; MLS LIVE) as they return to MLS play after two weeks off amid Copa America Centenario.