As the cornerstone of the Real Salt Lake attack, a multi-year contract extension at the beginning of the 2016 securing the services of Joao Plata for the foreseeable future.
Plata lived up to his namesake proving his value as he easily contended for the first place on our list. He led the majority of the club’s offensive statistics, in addition to being one of the most consistent players for the Claret-and-Cobalt. RSL brought him into the fold hoping he could deliver a creative spark and he has not disappointed. In an organization that is currently struggling to find its identity, Plata provides a glimmer of hope.
The diminutive Ecuadorian brought a sprinkle of the traditional Latin American flair to 30 matches in 2016. Plata’s open playing style focused on attack produced 77 shots, 43 percent of them on-target. Plata logged a new personal record providing his teammates 12 assists, tripling his numbers from last year. Similarly, Plata more than doubled the amount of goals he scored when compared to last year. After Dell Loy Hansen purchased the remainder of his rights from South American holders, Plata demonstrated his resolve to the team in the form of strong statistics.
In comparison to Plata’s playing style, the general view of RSL play is one of greater discipline and less freedom of expression since switching to the 4-2-3-1 formation. Jeff Cassar’s instituted tactics focused on denying the opposition space in which to move, resulting in a tighter and more cautious approach. However, Plata leaves the squad wanting when he fails to overlap his fullbacks to provide a defensive contribution. RSL under Cassar has seen the Claret-and-Cobalt tighten up their defensive play, often at the expense of truly open soccer that Plata favors.
Plata is renowned for his technical abilities. He is confident with the ball at his feet and happy to take on opposing defenders one-on-one. Plata moves the ball spontaneously and with individual skill often leading to goal-scoring opportunities. He also has the propensity to take chances himself and is a great finisher – evident of the nine goals he scored in 2016. Whether he stays tight to the end-lines or cuts inside, Plata is very much an attacking asset.
Despite Real never really emphasizing individuality over team contribution to the extent of other Major League Soccer clubs, Plata still fits into Cassar’s model with his passing ability. The Ecuadorian attempted 879 passes and 81 percent of them found their target. While his overall potential is limited as Cassar clings to a tactless playing style, this young attacker’s veteran temperament will surely stoke the flames of the homegrown talent.
Seeing Plata set even more personal records, and even club records, in 2017 would definitely benefit an organization in flux. His presence on and off the pitch will be invaluable if he can bring together a squad and get the offensive juggernaut RSL could be running. As such, Plata will be an important building block for the future, as well as the birth of a new playing style for what some would consider RSL 3.0.
Joao Plata is definitely a success story for Real Salt Lake. In exchange for a second-round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, the Claret-and-Cobalt managed to acquire one of the rising attacking talents in the league. Plata is a much a part of this side as the royal gold trim on the RSL kit — possibly the birth of the Twitter hashtag #PlataEsOro. The final 2017 expectation for this player would be for Plata to emerge as a leader for an organization that is getting younger. Here is a preview of what is to come in his own words: