If Real Salt Lake's 2-0 win over New York City FC is any indication, the team is starting to find their feet at just the right time.
Players are returning from injury — Javier Morales played 30 minutes, Joao Plata played less than a handful of minutes — and others are still making their way back. Additionally, Sebastian Jaime's on the path, which leaves RSL with just Chris Schuler absent.
The excitement on Saturday when Plata entered the match was palpable. It was more than a buzz in the atmosphere — it was closer to a fever. Getting excited about Joao Plata is, in fact, a very natural state of being an RSL fan, but we should wonder how much of a godsend he'll be — if he's one at all right now.
Of course, we do think he'll be an incredibly useful and exciting addition to the team once again. But two minutes late on as RSL was leading a match 2-0 probably isn't the most meaningful thing, even if it does act as a signal for something bigger. And that's the exciting part, right? The implications.
But those minutes don't mean Plata's back permanently, and we need to exercise just as much patience as we've had to this point while we've waited for him to return from his long (but fewer than five months) layoff. And while we're on that, it's worth noting: the impatience that had grown over the lateness of the hour of his return to MLS action was actually right on schedule with what the team had estimated.
So if we're going to preach patience with Plata — and in a continuing sense as he looks to make a full return from injury — we should probably explain ourselves. I think we all want a fully fit Plata back in the lineup post-haste, but it stands to reason that he won't just materialize out of thin air.
So why are we taking this reserved approach? We'll tell you.
Rushing Plata back almost certainly slows down his recovery
Plata, having not had a preseason after taking to injury in the first training session of the year, needs time to build up his fitness. Getting him back prematurely could mean muscle injuries, which are all-too common after long layoffs, or it could mean heightened expectations are sent crashing when it turns out that, quite reasonably, he needs more time.
RSL are finding their feet at forward
A little surprisingly, Real Salt Lake is now in a position where having Plata back isn't a necessity for results, despite our strong and ardent desire to see his 90-minute return. Indeed, Devon Sandoval and Alvaro Saborio have struck up a nice partnership, and that lessens the need a little bit. If we were still in panic mode there, maybe it's a little different story — but that doesn't outweigh the first point.
Getting Plata back fully fit allows more productive playing time
As Plata gets his feet back under him, the more time he's given in preparation for a full MLS return, the more likely he is to come back close to his high point last year. We'd expect, with a player his age, to reasonably see him return to a similar point without the injury, but if we want that with this injury in mind, we'll have to exercise patience.