Sandy • A hint of electricity returned to Real Salt Lake’s starting lineup Saturday night. Joao Plata, absent from the Jeff Cassar’s starting lineup card since March 22, again earned his spot up top in RSL’s formation alongside Alvaro Saborio against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
He made his presence felt early Saturday, scoring the first goal less than two minutes into the match.
The 22-year-old Ecuadorian attacker missed three games after pulling up lame in the first half of RSL’s home opener against the L.A. Galaxy on March 22 with a hamstring injury. After returning to the 18-man match-day roster last week in a 1-0 win over Portland at Rio Tinto Stadium, Plata returned to the starting lineup, again assuming his role after Olmes Garcia started the previous four matches up top combining with Saborio,
Plata proved dynamic in his early-season start for RSL, notching two goals and two assists in the club’s first three matches. He scored the game-winner against L.A. in the StubHub Center in RSL’s season-opening 1-0 win, had a goal and an assist in the 3-3 draw at San Jose on March 15.
Much has been made of Real Salt Lake’s start to the 2014 season as the club rattled off seven straight results to begin the campaign, but first-year head coach Jeff Cassar is in the midst of one of the best starts to an MLS head coaching career in league history.
Cassar’s seven-game unbeaten streak entering Saturday night’s match against Vancouver is tied with ex-Chicago Fire and current Montreal Impact coach Frank Klopas, whose 2011 Fire team started 1-0-6. RSL’s unbeaten streak through seven weeks is the third-longest in MLS history. The L.A. Galaxy started the 1996 MLS season 12-0-0 under Lothar Osiander and the late Tom Fitzgerald started 8-0-0 with the Columbus Crew in the same calendar year.
Injury front continues to thin
The club seems to be inching on by the early-season, injury-riddled beginning to 2014. RSL had 15 players miss a total of 40 games counting Saturday night’s injury absences.
Luis Gil (hamstring), Robbie Findley (knee), Rich Balchan (adductor) and Cole Grossman (shin) were injury scratches for the club against Vancouver. Findley participated in training this week as he returns from off-season knee surgery. Gil hasn’t played in a match since April 5, when the 20-year-old suffered a hamstring injury at Sporting Kansas City. Gil declined a call-up to the U.S. U-21 men’s national team camp due to the injury.
"You’ve just got to be smart about it and rehab it, because if not, it will linger for a long time," Gil said Wednesday. "You’d rather rehab for about a month and be at 100 percent and not worry about it again then have it lingering."
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