SANDY, Utah — Twenty minutes into the second half and down 2-0 to visiting USL-Pro side Charleston Battery, Real Salt Lake needed a spark, something to bring some energy into what had been a fairly lackluster performance up to that point.
Enter Joao Plata.
The diminutive Ecuadoran came on in the 63rd minute and immediately things began to turn for the home side.
"The energy level was a little low from quite a few of the players tonight. The guys coming off the bench were critical," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Charleston had obviously bunkered in to protect their two-goal lead — the Battery didn't have a shot on goal from the 37th minute until the 110th — and the attack was stagnant at times. Plata changed that almost immediately. He and Javier Morales began linking up the left wing with Plata making dangerous runs.
"Our job was to go in and change the tempo," said midfielder Khari Stephenson, who entered the game as a substitute in the 63rd minute with Plata. "Joao came in and started running up plays and it opened things up for everybody else, so we started getting more chances and it eventually got some more goals."
RSL scored only three minutes after Plata entered, and it only took another 13 minutes before he made the play to level things. After a few nifty moves, Plata faked out a defender in the 18-yard area and forced a clumsy foul for a penalty shot. He stepped up and buried it into the top-left corner.
"Most of the time it is Javi, he is the one, but he asked me if I felt comfortable with it and said, 'Yes,'" said Plata through a translator on the decision for who would take the kick. "Thank God I scored it. I had been practicing in the training, and it was a good shot."
Plata wasn't done affecting the outcome yet, though. In the seventh minute of the first overtime, he connected with Devon Sandoval for the game-winning goal in what turned out to be a 5-2 scoreline.
"It is pretty evident he is a very crafted player, a gifted player," said defender Tony Beltran of Plata. "He has really done so well for us, made such an impact offensively, and he works hard behind the ball as well. Big credit to him, he came in and completely changed the game and was a spark for our attack."
While plenty of credit could be heaped on the 21-year-old, he is quick to deflect it and remains humble.
"Personally, I am just happy because the coach gave me some minutes, and then I put everything I have on the field," Plata told reporters through a translator.