SANDY — Real Salt Lake has certainly had some interesting characters at striker through the years. Whether it was Clint Mathis, Jeff Cunningham or Yura Movsisyan in previous years, to Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio now, they've all had quirky personality traits.
That's somewhat the sentiment of strikers around the world — they're a different breed. They can go in and out of form from week to week, and sometimes from minute to minute within a match.
For Saborio, he was certainly in form last Saturday, and that's great news for Real Salt Lake.
"He's a fantastic player, and for this team to be successful we need him to be at his best," said Will Johnson.
RSL's record in MLS play this season was 6-1-2 when Saborio scored. When he didn't, it was 9-10-6. It's certainly no surprise then that RSL was an easy 3-0 winner last week with Saborio scoring twice.
In a season in which midfielders Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman certainly dominated the headlines both good and bad, no RSL player has had a more turbulent season than Saborio. Between the tragic death of a Costa Rican teammate, his failure in the Gold Cup, his march to the locker room and then his well-documented flop, he's dealt with a lot, but it's strengthened his resolve and he's a very dangerous player with the MLS playoffs getting under way.
"No doubt about it, he had some rough times with everything that transpired at the Gold Cup. … Those type of things don't happen every year. I think that would take a toll on anyone," said Johnson. "I think it's safe to say he's back, he's really positive and he's scoring some wonderful goals. It definitely seems like he has a smile on his face."
Johnson credits RSL teammates Morales and Espindola for getting Saborio through the tough times.
"We all go through bad times for one reason or another; you just need your teammates to stick up for you and support you. Javier and Fabian, they've been there for him, and now we're all reaping the rewards," said Johnson.
Saborio himself isn't one to open up publicly, or for that matter privately. RSL coach Jason Kreis said it took well over a year and a half until Saborio seemed comfortable talking with his coach.
"He's not the most talkative of guys, he hasn't ever really expressed an increased comfort level with us," Kreis said. "But we saw it with Fabian (Espindola) in his first season through his second season, it just takes a while for those guys to feel like they can really, really trust us and can really appreciate how much we care about them."
That collective support at RSL might've been what ultimately turned Saborio's season around.
Saborio went scoreless over RSL's final three Champions League games earlier this year as well as during the first eight games of MLS play. He then left for a month to participate in the Gold Cup with his native Costa Rica, a tournament that ended badly when he missed two penalty kicks in the Ticos ouster. Then a few nights later, teammate Dennis Marshall died in a tragic car accident.
The tragedy seemed to effect Saborio quite a bit, as he declined to discuss it with local reporters afterward.
Upon his return to RSL, he seemed reinvigorated, though, and scored three goals in two games and it looked like the Saborio of 2010 was back.
Not so fast.
After being subbed off in the 88th minute at home against FC Dallas on July 9, with RSL leading 2-0 no less, a disgusted Saborio stormed straight to the locker room. The team addressed the incident internally, and Saborio didn't travel with the team a few days later for a U.S. Open Cup match at Dallas.
In RSL's next league match, Saborio scored twice in a 4-1 victory, but the striker clearly dove to earn a second-half penalty kick and the league suspended him for one game because of his antics.
It was an embarrassing moment for Saborio, but it seemed to strengthen his relationship with Kreis, who confronted his striker afterward about the dive.
"He's beginning to become more and more comfortable with me," joked Kreis, who said it apparently takes a couple of years sometimes.
After the suspension, Saborio struggled to regain his form during a month-long spell, and RSL went 1-4 over a five-game stretch. He seemed to finally snap out of the funk with a goal in a 1-0 road victory at Chivas USA on Aug. 27, and he finished the regular season with four goals in the last 10 matches.
With two more already in the playoffs, Saborio is heating up at the right time.
"It's good for every forward to score goals, and we'll try and keep focused and move forward to the next game," said Saborio. "I feel good in the past two games, and hopefully I go up there and continue to get better."
RSL on the air
Western Conference semifinals
Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders
Wednesday, 8 p.m. MT2 comments on this story
CenturyLink Field, Seattle
Radio: 700 AM, 1600 AM
NOTE: RSL won first leg, 3-0