You can just kind of feel it. Real Salt Lake have been quietly hanging around in the standings, waiting for Joao Plata to return. They haven’t lost a lot of ground and they haven’t looked horribly exposed. They’ve lost two and won one since losing their star man, but at no point were we able to affirm our claim that Real Salt Lake were Joao Plata or bust. In fact, the Utah-dwellers deserve credit.
The only game that you could point to and gawk at is the 5-2 loss against the LA Galaxy. But to be fair, that’s what the Galaxy do. They will have games where everyone is on the same page and they’re just plain unstoppable. That wasn’t a result of Plata’s absence. In fact, there were so many positives from that game – the first without Plata.
Salt Lake still managed two goals against a stout defense and they rediscovered the venerable Salt Lake kingpin, Javier Morales, who created eight chances in 45 minutes against LA.
The following game against Houston, Morales was again the central figure, stealing the spotlight from the still-injured Plata. Morales proved to be another catalyst of this offense and suddenly, Plata’s absence didn’t feel so heavy.
Against Colorado, a hard fought 1-0 loss could easily have been swayed by the presence of Plata. Salt Lake controlled possession and matched Colorado stride for stride. They just lacked that finishing touch. That extra dose of creativity. But the fact that they hung with an inspired Colorado, in Colorado, without Plata, proves that Real Salt Lake is, for lack of a better word, quite real.
There was a time when Plata accounted for six of Salt Lake’s eight goals. He looked to be single-handedly carrying them to the top of the West. But since his absence, Real find themselves in just third place, three points behind Colorado with a game in hand.
Safe to say that there is a bit of excitement about getting Plata back, which should happen this weekend against the Houston Dynamo, a team that Salt Lake already put away without Plata.
Joao Plata is going to make this team pop again. Combining with a resurgent Javier Morales, Real will find no lack of chances. A little extra edge from Yura Movsisyan and they are in business. It’s that perfect little trifecta that most of the great teams out there have, and Real Salt Lake is so close to finalizing theirs.