By TYLER GRAY
Sandy, Utah – Real Salt Lake was hurting for some goals.
Star forward Alvaro Saborio is out with a quadriceps strain. His replacements, Robbie Findley and Olmes Garcia, were both questionable heading into the match, forcing manager Jason Kreis to play two newcomers in Joao Plata and Devon Sandoval up top.
Kreis’ gamble paid off as Plata led RSL to a 2-0 victory over the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium. The 21-year-old Ecuadorian recorded two assists on his way to being named man of the match for the first time this season.
The game started out a little bit choppy with neither side able to find a rhythm on offense.
“I think we struggled at the beginning of the game with our possession,” Kreis remarked after the game. “I was pleased tactically that we had the ball in their half of the field and I thought we made the right tactical choices but we weren’t clean enough with the ball. I felt like we got better and better and better as the game went on.”
There were no clear chances all through the first half with only one shot on target from either side and it was looking like RSL was going to get stuck in a scoreless draw again in front of the 17,480 fans in attendance, many in Star Wars outfits.
Inspiration came from an unlikely source in the 47th minute when RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando took a quick restart and sent a long ball down the right side of the field where towards a running Plata. The diminutive forward was able to settle the ball and loft in a perfect pass in front of the keeper, where midfielder Luis Gil was able to direct a header off the post and into the net.
“It feels good to get into the attack a little bit,” Rimando said. “You hang back there on defense and you only think about that, but you want to help out any way you can and today I was fortunate to play a good ball to Plata.”
It was Rimando’s fourth game-winning assist and seventh overall in his career. It was the second time that he had recorded both an assist and a shutout win in the same match, the last being a 1-0 victory over Seattle in 2009.
Luis Gil suffered a right ankle contusion when he collided with Whitecaps keeper Joe Cannon just after scoring and had to come off in the 54th minute. His replacement Sebastian Velasquez didn’t waste much time in making his presence known and contributed an assist in the buildup to the second goal.
Velasquez squeezed a ball through the Whitecaps defense to Plata who once again slotted the assist to midfielder Javier Morales, finishing past Cannon in the 71st minute to effectively put the game away.
“[I’m] very happy with the assists but the most important thing is the team,” Plata remarked. “Little by little I’m integrating myself with the team and I’m just very grateful for this victory.”
Here are the match highlights: