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Goal Breakdown: Long pass sees Plata unleashed for team goal

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake’s 2-1 win over Philadelphia Union felt explosive in plenty of ways, and the first goal of the match — the first for Joao Plata in an age, too — was the perfect way to push the team forward.

It was a team goal in every sense of the word, but by the same token, it was also one of the most spectacular, magnificent goals you’ll see all week. (We’re lucky enough to have had two of those in this match.)

Let’s talk about how it came about.

Jamison Olave sends a long ball over the top. It isn’t completed, but that’s actually not particularly important. By forcing the opponent’s back line to deal with the pass, we can bypass a well-packed midfield.

The Union fullback gets his head on the pass, which just prevents Plata from getting on the end of it. But that’s not nearly enough — he’s basically given Plata the freedom to attack without a defender hounding him.

The fullback actually deals very well with the issue he created for himself, recovering to avoid giving Plata a free run. Here’s where Demar Phillips starts coming into play, and you’ll see in the next frame just how important it is. But if you do want to scroll up, you’ll see that Phillips is hanging out in the opposition half, and he’s basically unmarked on his run.

This underscores the importance of Phillips in this team — as an attack-minded fullback, he is often playing his defensive role more proactively, pushing up to help keep possession and win possession in good areas.

Of course, this isn’t as straightforward as you’d like — Phillips sends a cross in, and it’s going to come back off the defender.

This isn’t the best place to put the ball, right? We have the center covered — look at Morales and Beckerman — and the left side with Plata and Phillips. Maybe heading it behind would have resulted in a better outcome for the Union.

Here we go. Demar Phillips is on the ball again; he plays it out to Javier Morales, and things get truly exciting here.

Morales takes a few touches, confronting the opposition, and Plata has wriggled free of the defense. Vitally, Phillips has engaged with a defender.

Here, Plata’s on the ball, and he has four players that would make good options.

  1. Phillips has broken free from the defender, retreating to open space.
  2. Morales is making a darting run down the side into space.
  3. Olmes Garcia is in a good forward position.
  4. Burrito Martinez is there for a quick cross.

Each of those options is a good one, but the one that gives Plata the most freedom is the first — however, he now has three defenders converging on him. He’ll have to be quick to make this work.