The Joao Plata Experience is starting to be noticed.
After his two goals propelled Real Salt Lake to a sensational come-from-behind 3-2 road win against the Chicago Fire Saturday night, the RSL forward was recognized as the MLS Player of the Week by the North American Soccer Reporters (NASR) for Week 9 of the MLS season.
The 22-year-old Ecuadorian upped his goal total early in 2014 to five with his brace against the Fire Saturday, scoring the first goal of the night for RSL in the 72nd minute and eventually the game-winner in the 93rd minute when Plata volleyed in a cross from fellow forward Alvaro Saborio to secure three points for RSL.
“His energy on both sides of the ball is what’s really fantastic,” RSL coach Jeff Cassar told reporters Saturday night at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. “He’s always energetic on the offensive end, but I was really pleased with how he was holding up the ball and tracking and defending. He ended up playing the left side of our midfield at the end of the game. He’s doing everything right now.”
Hampered with a hamstring injury for over a month in-between the months of March and April, Plata’s fast scoring rate to start the year — two goals, two assists in first three matches — hasn’t taken a dip upon his return to the field. He’s scored three goals in the last two outings and is scoring 1.14 goals per 90 minutes, which ranks third in MLS among players with at least 100 minutes played.
Plata’s numbers in just six matches have proven to be vital to the club’s stellar start to the season. RSL remains undefeated at 4-0-5 with 17 points and Plata’s five goals and two assists are a byproduct of his partnership with Saborio and the rhythm he’s found in the starting lineup. The Player of the Week honor is Plata’s second in MLS — the 5-foot-3 speedster won the honor in 2011 when he was with Toronto FC.
Yet another one of RSL GM’s Garth Lagerwey shrew pick-ups over the years, Plata was acquired by the club on Jan. 30, 2013, from Toronto FC in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. Plata made 29 regular-season appearances in his first year with RSL in 2013, including 19 starts, scoring four goals and notching eight assists in the regular season.