What he has done is he’s come off the bench and provided us a spark every single time he comes on, and been really, really effective in that role. I want to make sure that role is valued, because it is really important. —RSL coach Jason Kreis, on Joao Plata
SANDY — In the NBA, sixth men are celebrated as critical elements to a successful basketball team. There’s even a postseason Sixth Man of the Year award that celebrates the accomplishments of the best bench player in the league.
In soccer, there’s really no similar designation. It’s all about making the starting 11. Cracking the starting line-up is everything in soccer, because nobody remembers who the subs were, and there’s no 12th man of the year award to help us remember.
Joao Plata is doing his best to change that notion at Real Salt Lake.
Over the past month, Plata has been a regular off the bench for RSL, and he’s consistently made huge contributions upon entering the match.
That trend continue Wednesday night. He replaced struggling Robbie Findley in the 61st minute, and then in the 78th minute he scored what proved to be the game-winner on a scintillating shot from distance.
Two weeks earlier at New York, Real Salt Lake scored twice within six minutes of Plata coming on late in the match.
He’s certainly performed well enough to warrant increased playing time, but Kreis seems hesitant to fix what isn’t broke.
“I feel really awkward about this, because Joao has played very, very well now for about six weeks. Really has done just about everything we’ve asked him to do, deserves to be probably starting a lot more matches than he has in the last six weeks,” said Kreis.
“But what he has done is he’s come off the bench and provided us a spark every single time he comes on, and been really, really effective in that role. I want to make sure that role is valued, because it is really important.”
It might not be the role Plata wants, but he’s making the most of his opportunities, and at the end of the day, wins are the most important thing to Plata.
“It’s important to accumulate some minutes. It’s important that I scored and we got the three points, and that’s what we need,” Plata said through a translator after Wednesday’s match.
Plata’s appearance Wednesday was his fourth as a substitute in the past five matches, and he continues to produce in that role.
Overall this season, Plata has registered three goals and eight assists for Real Salt Lake over all competitions. Teammate Nat Borchers joked after Wednesday’s match that he certainly didn’t expect such productivity when he learned Real Salt Lake had acquired Plata from Toronto in the offseason.
“He’s been amazing, when he played with Toronto I personally wasn’t impressed. He stepped up his game, that was a massive, massive goal for us to go ahead in the second half,” said Borchers.
Fortunately for Plata, more starts will likely come soon. He’s started 12 of 19 league games this season, and good things happen when he’s on the field.
For now though, Kreis is happy with the current line-up dynamic.
“It’s an odd situation, you look at it negative one way, and he maybe would look at it a little negative because he’d like to play more minutes and start every game, but you can look at it another way and say he’s doing an incredible effective job for us off the bench,” said Kreis.