Santa Clara, Calif. • Before Real Salt Lake jetted toward the Bay Area this weekend and grabbed a road point at San Jose, Jeff Cassar waxed existential on briefly losing three key players in the midst of a tense Western Conference playoff race.
"It’s life," RSL’s coach said. "It’s life when you have quality players. The good thing is we’re getting good players being called up."
FC Dallas at Real Salt LakeSaturday, 8 p.m. MDT
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But with back-to-back matches at home against FC Dallas and away against league-leading Seattle, the club must exact revenge for its 2-1 loss at Dallas on Aug. 22 without its leading scorer in Joao Plata. The 22-year-old forward was called into the Ecuadorian national team last week on the heels of his breakout year with 11 goals and five assists. Plata will be involved in friendlies against fellow South American countries Bolivia on Sept. 5 in Miami, and Brazil on Sept. 9, in East Rutherford, N.J. He is expected to return for RSL’s match in Seattle on Friday, Sept. 12.
"He’s been having a fantastic season," Cassar said of Plata. "We were waiting for that call."
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, called into the United States men’s national team friendly at the Czech Republic on Sept. 3, will not stay with the USMNT for its four-day Europe-based camp after international friendly. Major League Soccer’s shutout king will return to Salt Lake City after the match in Prague and be available for selection against Dallas this Saturday, but has started 10 consecutive matches upon his return from the World Cup.
RSL will also lose defender Carlos Salcedo to a Mexico U-21 camp for the third time in 2014. Salcedo will also be unavailable for the FC Dallas match.
These late-summer call-ups provide another avenue for players to showcase their talents on the international level, but for clubs such as RSL — deeply-rooted in vying for trophies — it means pressure will fall on depth to perform. Perhaps more importantly, the club will be crossing its fingers that three important players return healthy and unscathed.
"It’s a little hindrance," Cassar said, "but we have a deep team."
Plata’s absence could result in the debut of new Designated Player Sebastian Jaime against Dallas. The 27-year-old Argentine traveled with RSL to San Jose this weekend, but didn’t make his club debut in the 1-1 draw. Robbie Findley entered the match in the 79th minute as a substitution.
"I think in that type of heated battle, it would almost be unfair to him to put him in that situation," Cassar said after the match. "On top of that, Robbie Findley knows that game, knows that scenario. I thought he actually did a really good job when he came on.
"We want to introduce [Jaime] when the time is right."
It may be hard to leave the new guy off the lineup card in a match against Dallas that demands three points. The Hoops saw their 10-game win streak snapped Saturday night in a 1-0 loss at Chicago, allowing RSL to vault by them in the West standings.
Three points against Dallas would increase distance.
"We have eight games left, and I think home games are going to be really important down the stretch," defender Nat Borchers said. "If we want to make a run at the Supporters’ Shield, it definitely starts next weekend."
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