Joao Plata has been Real Salt Lake’s most important player of 2016 so far

Photo credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Photo credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Joao Plata is in form and extremely dangerous. Four goals and three assists in five games, Plata has been Real Salt Lake’s most important player through the opening stage of the Major League Soccer season.

As a matter of fact, Plata has had a hand in at least on goal in every Real Salt Lake match. He has scored the highest rating of any Claret and Cobalt player at 7.73, according to WhoScored.com.

Despite being a mere 5ft 2in, Plata has shown his superb nose for goal and ability to pick out teammates with passes. In Saturday’s 1-0 win over Colorado, Plata once again stole the show. A 93% pass success rate, topped off by a 72nd minute winner, pushed Real Salt Lake to second in both the Western Conference and the MLS combined table with 11 points from 15 available. It was Plata’s stealth presence and explosive burst of speed that allowed the attacker to pounce on a missed clearance before out pacing Colorado goalkeeper Mac MacMath to goal.

“For me it’s good. I feel great. It’s why we’re training hard every day,” said Plata following the win. “We got three points, but we know we need to keep going and I look forward to the next game.”

Since arriving from Toronto FC in January 2013, Plata has been on an accelerated ascent at Rio Tinto Stadium. In his first season in Utah, Plata tallied four goals and eight assists, ranking second in Real Salt Lake’s assist category. However, it was 2014 that was Plata’s breakout year, not only with Real, but in MLS. That season saw the diminutive winger tally 13 goals and six assists in 26 matches.

A broken foot suffered in preseason prevented Plata from repeating his heroics in 2015. The Real Salt Lake suffered without him, gaining 14 of a possible 33 points during his time out. Even upon returning, it was apparent Plata needed time to regain fitness and form. The Ecuadorian played a mere 19 times in all. However, this season Plata has regained the form that made him indispensable for the club.

Plata has overcome those original labels of being too small for MLS. Despite being the shortest player in the league, Plata has used both his size and speed to his advantage. A strong finisher and highly capable of dissecting defenses, Plata has completed over 81% of his passes this term. In addition, Plata is averaging 3.4 key passes – the final pass that leads to a shot at goal – which is over two more than any teammate.

“He’s doing it with free kicks, he’s doing it through the run of play, he’s getting assists and passes and free kicks, so he’s kind of doing it all right now,” said Real Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar.

The tricky winger was awarded the league’s Player of the Month Award for March. Already, he is making a strong case for back-to-back awards. Currently second in MLS’s goal scoring charts, Plata has four of Real Salt Lake’s nine goals this term and is on pace to repeat the brilliance of 2014.

With Plata back to the top of his game, Real Salt Lake is looking strong in the early stages of the MLS season.

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