Real Salt Lake's lone goal on Saturday night wasn't just interesting for the typical reasons — good dribbling, a spectacular shot. It was part of a masterstroke of team movement and understanding that sucked players into and out of positions that opened up the game.
First movement: The run
First, Joao Plata sends a full back spiraling with a good touch and, well, I don't know — my stadium memory is hazy and this first frame is literally where the highlight from the last play stops. You see, the last play was Yura Movsisyan hitting the post. But we know that no more than 10 seconds prior, RSL actually had the ball in Justen Glad's hands for a throw-in around the front edge of the defensive third.
Let that sink in for a minute. In a matter of 10 seconds, RSL has taken a Vancouver side who had just one — one! — player in the attacking half of the field and turned them inside out. There are only seven Vancouver players visible in this first shot. RSL has four players attacking three defenders. That's not just counterattacking football — that's recognizing a moment of transition and taking advantage of it.
Anyway, here's the first bit of action we have. Joao Plata is on the flank and he has possession of the ball, and he's uncontested. Kendall Waston is going to come meandering out to meet him, because, well, that's what he has to do.
Here we go. Plata has stuck himself in the channel, and Burrito Martinez has made a cutting run that will see him let loose of any defenders. It also throws a bit of confusion into the Vancouver defense, because they're now trying to get back and mark him, but they just can't. Nobody can. It's impossible.
Second movement: The pass
Here's the best part. Plata's pass is pinpoint, and it leaves Martinez with all his options in front of him. He needs only make a simple run from here, getting into the box and receiving the ball. How he receives the ball will make a world of difference — should he take it on his left foot and fire a quick near-post shot? Something else? (It's not fair, because we all know the answer.)
That pass also removes from contention the other center back, who is shadowing Yura Movsisyan, a potent goalscorer in his own right. It was only 30 seconds prior that he hit the post after an excellent run, so the defense is surely concerned about him. And Joao Plata is being marked, too, because he's the one you're supposed to look out for, right?
Even Luke Mulholland is playing a role, forcing the left back to tuck inside as he makes a run to the middle.
Third movement: The touch and the finish
And here we go. Martinez takes an very soft first touch, and that leaves Waston — who was scrambling to meet the pass — with momentum going away from Martinez. It's extremely clever play here to recognize that and to keep the ball out of his reach.
Just look at that first touch. It's sublime. He takes it slightly inside, but it's really just landing on a nice, warm, fluffy pillow of foot. And the second and third touches are even better — he's just barely moving his position, and the goalkeeper is basically standing there like a useless, broken Ancient Greek statue.
Finally, that finish. He's kept the ball low — but not too low, mind — and he's in such a position that he doesn't have to put any wild curve on the ball. It's just a superbly simple finish.