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Joao Plata stands out in RSL’s 1-0 win

In which I summarily eat my hat.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last two weeks, my level of exasperation with Real Salt Lake attacker Joao Plata raised to a near-boil. He’d been, to my mind, a negative force on the team, even if he was scoring goals.

Maybe I was right about that — and maybe I wasn’t right at all. But across 90 minutes of action (87, actually, but who’s counting?), Plata made me eat my words, and I can’t be happier about it.

Was he the best player of the match? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not here to tell you who my man of the match was. (It was Jefferson Savarino. I think.) I’m here to talk about why Plata had a good night, and why I think he was a positive force.

Defensive responsibilities

In previous matches, we saw Plata sometimes stroll back when the team needed to defend, letting players run past him on their way toward scoring their team’s third or fourth goal. It wasn’t ideal, by any stretch of the imagination, and not just because we’d conceded goals before that.

Against Minnesota, I’d reckon that we saw Plata in better defensive positions, and he didn’t simply give up on plays. Here’s a pretty screenshot of MLSSoccer.com for you to look at. Those yellow triangles are recoveries, which means he’s picking up possession when it was last controlled by the opposing team, but it’s not through a tackle or interception.

Notice how deep those come? On its own, that doesn’t tell us much. But in conjunction with what we saw, I feel very good about asserting that Plata was a more-involved defensive figure.

Key passes

Charles is right. That is a significant contribution from Plata. Here’s whey they came from.

There are two interesting things I’d like to call attention to. First, can you remember a match where we had four shots from corners at all? It’s been a long while since it felt like that was accurate. Surely, Minnesota was weak there, and we capitalized.

Second, there’s a slew of key passes from just around the box in that graphic. That’s actually sort of unusual, and I think that also points to a weakness that Plata or Petke might have seen on the pitch.

Finally, did you know that Plata averages 2.1 key passes per match? Yeah, performances like this will definitely push that average up — if we’re able to continue shooting that often. That certainly won’t always make sense, but in this match, it was what we needed.

The Untouchable

Here’s a weird one: Joao Plata wasn’t fouled at all in this match. Not on paper, at least, and not by the referee’s estimations. This is more of a novelty statistic than anything, but maybe there’s something more interesting here. It almost certainly speaks more toward Minnesota’s approach.