Joao Plata’s stats didn’t blow anyone away last year.
The Ecuadorian striker tallied four goals in 29 appearances during his first season in Salt Lake.
But Chris Wingert knew to expect more.
"I told my dad last year this guy’s a goal scorer," the RSL defender says. "He didn’t have big numbers last year, but you can just see the way he finishes in practice. He hits the heck out of the ball. He’s sharp around the goal. He has an unbelievable fighting spirit. … The guy competes like crazy - even when we play ping pong."
On Wednesday night, the ball pinged off New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles and fell to Wingert’s feet on the left side of the 18-yard box.
Wingert looked up and passed it off to Plata.
"Easy to set that one up," Wingert said with a laugh after RSL’s 1-1 draw with New York at Rio Tinto Stadium. "Two-yard pass. Let him do the work. It was an unbelievable finish."
As he did two weeks ago in RSL’s 1-1 draw with Vancouver, Plata provided Salt Lake’s only goal of the night Wednesday, helping secure a point as the team closed out a three-game home stand.
Plata’s shot threaded through defender Chris Duvall’s legs and found the space between New York defender Jamison Olave and the outstretched foot of Red Bull midfielder Tim Cahill, before settling into the side netting.
It was Plata’s ninth goal of the year and his third goal in his last five games, after going more than a month without one.
"He’s just deadly right now," RSL coach Jeff Cassar said. "Right now most of his shots are on target. He’s hungry."
The shot also helped the striker climb further atop the RSL leader board, a list that has been dominated by Alvaro Saborio since 2010.
With Saborio sidelined for 2-3 more months with a foot injury, Plata has a chance to be the first player other than Saborio to lead the team in goals since Robbie Findley did it with 12 goals in 2009.
"He’s feeling it right now," Wingert said. "And it’s not a surprise."
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