After scoring his first goal of the Major League Soccer season, Real Salt Lake's Luis Silva grinned, pointed at Joao Plata and ran toward him.
Plata's assist in that 1-1 draw against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium adds to an impressive stat line of three goals and one assist in RSL's current three-game unbeaten streak.
"I think he's taken control of his career a lot more over the last couple of months," RSL coach Mike Petke said of Plata. "He realizes the opportunity that he has. He's a young kid that has so much potential."
Plata, a 25-year-old Ecuadorian, has emerged as a key piece in an RSL attack that is thriving with newfound cohesion.
"His strength is going forward with the ball," midfielder Albert Rusnák said. "He's really good at dribbling with the ball, beating players one-on-one, and he's got a great shot."
Rusnák has a close view for Plata's ankle-breaking show — figurative that is, with the foot skills Rusnák referred to.
Rusnák's pass led Plata into the box in the 26th minute a week ago at Portland. With Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala tight on him, Plata cut to his right and sent Mabiala stumbling to the ground before Fanendo Adi came storming back in time for the Timbers, stripping Plata of the ball with a slide tackle.
Plata would go on to score two goals, one of which was a penalty kick, in RSL's 4-1 win.
"Where he's come from in the first two weeks I was here and the issues he and I had to now, where he is completely on board," Petke said after that match, "he's doing everything we're asking. That's one of the beauties of coaching. To see that, to have that relationship with a player, to be a part of bringing him to a place where he's firing on all cylinders, it's great."
Plata's jump in play and pairing with Rusnák started before RSL began its current unbeaten streak.
He sent pass after pass into the box that his teammates shanked or whiffed on in a 1-0 home loss to Orlando City four weeks ago. Rusnák returned from international duty with Slovakia and played 13 minutes off the bench in the loss.
Both started RSL's next match, along with Jefferson Savarino, to control RSL's 6-2 win at Los Angeles in the fourth game the three had been able to start together.
They've been inseparable on the pitch since, combining for seven goals and four assists in RSL's past three league matches. To complete the attacking four, Yura Movsisyan started at striker at Los Angeles, and Silva played up top for the other two contests.
"The more that they get comfortable with each other — on and off the field — it only helps," Petke said. "It's all those little intangibles that a lot of young players don't take into account. It's not just about showing up for practice or just showing up for a game and putting everything you have in it. It's everything."
The resurgence of his goal-scoring ability has been a nice change for Plata, who was frustrated with a 13-match scoring drought to begin the season. He broke that streak with back-to-back goals against Philadelphia and Houston in late May.
"This year I think I started slow in April, May," Plata said. "But now I think I'm at my level and I feel happy. I feel happy for me and for my team. For all my teammates, it means a lot, and hopefully we continue like that."
Petke said Plata has talked to him about his goals of winning the MLS Cup and adding to his current total of four call-ups to Ecuador's senior national team.
"All the conversations I've had with him," Peke said, "it's just about, all right, what are you willing to do to get there? And now it's all on him, with his attitude, his work rate, and I couldn't be more happy for him."