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2018 Player Profiles: Joao Plata

Despite early-season struggles and transfer rumors, Plata finished 2018 in good form.

MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

2018 was a year of some big ups and some big downs for both RSL as a club and Joao Plata as a player.

In a season that saw the winger’s minutes fall to the lowest he’s seen since 2015 when he suffered a broken foot and had to sit out the first three months of the season, totaling 1,431 minutes after his return, Plata managed to play in 25 games this year — while starting 20 of them — and logged 1,721 minutes in total. Sure, he was forced to sit due to some more injury issues, but some would say it’s also largely a combination of his underperformance and Sebastian Saucedo’s midseason form that led to Mike Petke’s decision to start Bofo in Plata’s place for several of those games.

When we look back at the season as a whole, did Plata really underperform? He tallied eight goals this year — his third-highest total in his six years with RSL — while notching eight assists to boot. He managed to rack those up in only 25 appearances, averaging one goal and one assist every three games or so. To compare, here are some of his regular season stats from all six years we’ve had him in Salt Lake:

2018: 8 goals, 8 assists, 25 appearances
2017: 7 goals, 5 assists, 29 appearances
2016: 9 goals, 12 assists, 30 appearances
2015: 4 goals, 4 assists, 19 appearances
2014: 13 goals, 6 assists, 26 appearances
2013: 4 goals, 8 assists, 29 appearances

There’s no doubt that Plata had a really tough time for the first half of the year. He was only able to score three goals early on, which came in March and April, while logging only two assists through the first four months of the season. Between injuries, taking a back seat to Bofo Saucedo, and transfer rumors swirling around during the summer, it seemed at one point that Plata’s days in Salt Lake might be numbered.

Then came the second half of the season. Something clicked with the 26-year-old attacker, as we watched him bang in five goals and grab six assists in the final four months of the season, starting with his brace in RSL’s 3-2 loss at Minnesota on July 14th. After that point, he started 12 of the final 14 games of the season, as he seemed to be on fire for the majority of it.

Even though his goal production wasn’t the worst it’s ever been by season’s end, it didn’t seem to be good enough for Plata, who expects more of himself.

“My personal goal is always trying to be the top scorer on the team — the top scorer in the league,” Plata told the Salt Lake Tribune back in October. “I’m a forward. I have to score. I have to assist my teammates.”

With so much speculation midseason about Joao Plata’s future with Real Salt Lake, all has been quiet with regards to any transfer rumors involving him so far this offseason. RSL extended Plata’s contract in 2017 by signing him to a long-term deal, and while don’t know the specifics of said deal, it’s probably safe to say he’s not going anywhere for a while.