SANDY — Among the many reasons Real Salt Lake came up short against Columbus Saturday night — a lackluster start, shoddy marking from the back four, unbridled frustration — the absence of striker Alvaro Saborio is likely at the top of the list.
Saborio was suspended by the league late Friday afternoon after he took a dive — and earned a penalty kick, which he made — in the previous game against San Jose. According to the league, "Saborio fell in a deliberate attempt to deceive the officials and gain an unfair advantage."
The speedy forward spent the evening watching the match, which RSL lost 2-0, from an upper-level suite at Rio Tinto Stadium. He was joined by injured midfielder Javier Morales, who is rehabbing a gruesome ankle injury he suffered earlier this season.
For Saborio, the suspension came as a surprise.
"I wasn't expecting that at all," Saborio said. "We hadn't heard anything for a week, so it was a surprise. It was very frustrating. We thought we could win this game, but it didn't happen."
For coach Jason Kreis, the only surprise was the timing of the suspension, which couldn't have been worse from a tactical standpoint. The call from the league came Friday afternoon, after the team's training session and after the coaches had met to put the finishing touches on the lineup and game plan for Saturday's match.
"As a coach you have a week in between games to prepare and spend time making sure the right guys are working together," Kreis said. "To come in at the last minute and tell us, 'By the way, Sabo's not going to play,' that's not good enough in my opinion. That's not good enough from the league and it's disrespectful to coaches."
No matter the reaction, the result was a disjointed and punchless offensive attack from RSL. Jean Alexandre, who started in place of Saborio, whiffed on three promising scoring chances in front of the goal. And without Saborio to open the field, the creative Fabian Espindola was shackled as the focal point of the Columbus defense.
RSL finished with 16 shots — only three that were on target — and zero goals in one of their last home games in a while. Four of the team's five August matches are on the road.
"This game is over. Now we have to keep playing hard, and I think it's very important for us to go out and win on the road," Saborio said. "That's never easy."
RSL visits Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. before returning home for a match against New York at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
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