CARSON, Calif. — At the 65th minute of Sunday’s Decision Day match between Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, the latter’s Joao Plata couldn’t quite hide his displeasure for a moment. With the Sounders up 2-1 over the visitors, RSL head coach Jeff Cassar signaled for the Ecuadorian to leave the field – news the latter took with a scowl.
Joao Plata’s slightly controversial exit, in GIF pic.twitter.com/tEmJ56RGUF— Matt Montgomery (@TheCrossbarRSL) October 24, 2016
But on Tuesday morning, any momentary acrimony had long disappeared. In fact, if Real Salt Lake are at all worried about their Wednesday-night Knockout Round match at the LA Galaxy (10:30 pm ET, UniMás), they hid the anxiety well.
Instead, the mood at the tactically focused training session seemed as chipper and bright as the Southern California sunshine itself. The main task at hand, in fact, seemed to be marking the birthday of forward Burrito Martinez. At the end of the session, players formed a tunnel gauntlet, chanting, “BURR-I-TO! BURR-I-TO!” and dousing the Argentine with water as he jogged through.
The day before a playoff game is the slowest day of the year. pic.twitter.com/8wiwydS5gB— Real Salt Lake (@RealSaltLake) October 26, 2016
Coming off of that, Plata even grinned as he recalled Sunday’s substitution. “It’s all good,” he said in Spanish after practice. “It’s all good. It was the decision of the coach to take me out, to make sure I was rested for this match. We knew that Portland was losing 4-0, so he wanted to save me. It’s fine, and thanks to God we’re in the playoffs.”
Cassar, too, echoed that he wanted to preserve his special attacking prize for the Galaxy. “We knew the results of the other games, and I firmly believe it was the right decision to make, because we were able to bring on players who were obviously very good, and could still get the result we wanted,” he said. “It was a very tactical game on both sides, and I thought it was a great precursor to the playoffs.”
Though Plata couldn’t eke out a goal on Decision Day, he, too, is hoping his work in Seattle portends good things. Tomorrow night’s game, nationally televised, could prove a vehicle to get him noticed, perhaps, on the international stage – particularly if he applies the pressure Cassar is hoping he does on the counter.
“Today, I think the coach was really focusing on defense and the counter-attack, and I was practicing penalties, too,” Plata said. “I think it’s been good; the team is very motivated to put up a good front.”
Cassar said he wants to rely on Plata’s speed and bravery in bearing down on his foes. “We’ve gotta find him in positions to where he’s squared up and running at players — or running him behind players,” he said. “I want to see him be in aggressive positions and other positions, just keeping the game simple. Eliminating turnovers in poor areas, and then putting himself in other dangerous positions.”
StubHub Center’s expansive field might help him do just that – and Plata’s hoping to take advantage, while keeping his cool through the full game. “This field is really big, the [opposing] team is really good. Everyone knows the Galaxy is a really good team with a lot of MLS Cup trophies, but Real Salt Lake has come to play a really smart game,” he said. “I know our rivals have really good defenders, but I know I have to try my best for the full 90 minutes to score goals.”