SANDY — Alvaro Saborio did exactly what he needed to do to make a good first impression.
Coming in as the third and final substitute for Real Salt Lake on Saturday night, Saborio delivered in his home debut for RSL when he headed in a clutch equalizer during the final minute of stoppage time to force a 2-2 draw against the Seattle Sounders.
Nelson Gonzalez set the decisive play in motion when he fed a corner kick into Saborio near the left post. He had good position and did not need to do much to send the ball home after collecting it from Gonzalez.
"I only had to put a head on it and make the goal," Saborio said.
Even though he was modest about his decisive header, Saborio's first goal in an RSL uniform meant a great deal.
The key play came at a crucial time for a team that had not played its best soccer up to that point. For one thing, it prevented his new team from coughing up a stinging rare home loss on a night when they honored last year's crew that won the MLS Cup. For another, it offered a payoff for Salt Lake after it battled through four minutes of stoppage time to get one final good play.
"To get that goal felt like a just reward," RSL coach Jason Kreis said. "It felt like the game should be a draw."
When RSL brought the Costa Rican forward in on loan from FC Sion in March, they expected to see a player who could add a scoring punch to the front line. After all, Saborio had totaled 133 goals in 255 games with Club Deportivo Saprissa, FC Sion and Bristol City before coming to Utah.
It is still early, but getting a last-minute goal to salvage a point offers a sign that Saborio could live up to such expectations. With performances similar to Saturday's, it's probable that his role in the offense will grow as the season progresses.
"He's scored a ton of international goals," said midfielder Will Johnson. "He's scored a ton of goals in his career. I'd put my money on him scoring a lot of goals this year for us."
Johnson provided Salt Lake's other goal early in the second half when he poked in the ball on a diving header after collecting a cross from Russell to make it 1-1 in the 53rd minute. But in terms of goals scored, the midfielder was quick to point to Saborio's header as the better one — both in terms of timeliness and style points.
"A fantastic header," Johnson said, concerning Saborio's goal. "Absolutely world class."
Saborio made his presence felt despite playing just a handful of minutes. He did not enter the match until the 77th minute, when he came in relief for Robbie Findley.
It seemed appropriate to Kreis that another substitute, Gonzalez, was the player who initiated the decisive goal. RSL had to go to its bench early after first-half injuries to starting midfielders Javier Morales and Ned Grabavoy.
Andy Williams came on in the 39th minute and Gonzalez in the 45th minute as Kreis scrambled to do what he could to keep the team from sinking.1 comment on this story
Kreis felt pleased with the contributions from all three players in the second half.
"You put players on to make a difference," Kreis said. "I felt like all three of them were involved in some good things for us."
Saborio is hopeful that the next game does not come down to a dramatic last-second goal, and he would be just as happy if the outcome is not riding on his shoulders in the final seconds.
"We have to defend better," Saborio said. "We have to attack better. We have to claim more opportunities to score."