1. Plata is among the best in MLS
When the MLS brass likes to drop names of the best strikers in the league they name Martins, Dempsey, Keane, and Wright-Phillips — but there is a new name to add to their list: Joao Plata.
When discussing the MVP race, production is certainly on the side for Plata. Joao has enjoyed a great year with Real Salt Lake, tallying 13 goals and five assists to date. Out of the league leaders in goals scored, only Keane and Martins have tallied more with 14 and 9, respectively.
Plata also cemented his name in the MVP race on Friday's trumping of Colorado Rapids at Rio Tinto. When Real Salt Lake went down a goal to the Rapids in the 21st minute of play, it was Plata who proved crucial in the team storming back.
Eleven minutes after José Mari's howler that slipped past Nick Rimando, Plata equalized off a Ned Grabavoy back-heel with a shot in the far-upper corner — a goal fellow player Luke Mulholland called "a world-class goal." Plata continued his fantastic run of form, proving to be vital in the preceding five minutes when RSL scored two more goals en route to a resounding 5-1 win over the Rapids.
Plata also played a vital role in the Rapid's goalkeeper Joe Nasco's own goal in the 45th minute. Beautiful build-up play from RSL - involving Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales, Sebastian Jamie - lead to Plata getting the ball on the edge of the 6-yard box and tapping the ball towards goal. The ball then deflected off the foot of Nasco into his goal.
Plata had a great match in all registering 3 of his 4 shots on goal and pulling the Rapid's formation apart. If the MLS brass had not yet had Joao Plata on their radar for MVP, they do now!
2. RSL was able to stop the opposition from gaining confidence.
Compared to last week's 3-2 loss to Seattle, Real Salt Lake stopped the Rapids from gaining a bit of confidence. This match, however, was like last week's match in that both teams that went behind first ending up winning the match.
RSL maintained confidence by retaining 59.5 percent of the possession and better passing. Yet, Colorado had more shots but three fewer on goal than RSL.
Nevertheless, it was just one of those nights. RSL's offense has been producing but, as some point, the dam is going to break — and lucky for Real that their offense is breaking out just before the playoffs.
While it is custom to focus on the offensive production in a team's success, let's give the defense its due. With Nat Borchers' out with a red card suspension, Carlos Salcedo stepped up. Not only did RSL's defense play lock-down with three blocks, the center defenders also produced on the offensive end - both Carlos Salcedo and Chris Schuler scored goals.
With Real Salt Lake's attacking corps clicking - Joao Plata setting a new personal record for goals, Findley scoring his first of the year two weeks ago, Jamie getting his first goal in the RSL uniform, and Sabo returning to fitness - and its defense standing solid, the season's end and the post-season looks bright for RSL!
3. The Fight for Rocky Mountain Cup is Real Salt Lake's to Lose
After beating the Rapids 2-1 on May 17 and 1-0 on August 2, this match provided RSL a chance to sweep the season series. The Rocky Mountain Cup - the trophy symbolizing regular-season supremacy between the two teams - has been tightly contested in the 10 years since its inception, but this year was the first time that one team has swept the other in the series.
Real Salt Lake has now taken the title of Rocky Mountain Champion for seven of the ten possible years - seven times in the last eight years.
With RSL maintaining a strong core and brining up recruits through an academy system that instills them with the motto of the team - The Team is the Star — Real Salt Lake looks to be a Western Conference power house that will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
4. Bonus Discussion Topic: Rivalries
There is a lot of discussion about which rival is the best in the league. Some quote the California Classico (LA - San Jose), some the Cascadia Cup (Seattle - Portland - and Vancouver to a lesser extent), and others might say it is the Atlantic Cup (New York - DC). Where do you think that the Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry stands amongst the league's top rivalries? And is this still the biggest rivalry for RSL?
I personally think that the Rocky Mountain Cup has lost some luster over the years. I propose this because while Real Salt Lake has remained one of the West's elite clubs, Colorado has retained its standing as a mediocre club hovering somewhere in the middle of the standings. For me, RSL's biggest rivalries are between - in order of greatest significance - Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, and then Colorado. I would however suggest that Portland and Colorado are interchangeable as each of these teams have had their importance, or lack thereof, on Western Conference standings. What do you think?