Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
It’s not really surprising that Real Salt Lake’s form has ebbed and flowed along with the form of Fabian Espindola this season.
He’s arguably the best complimentary striker in MLS, with his pace and skill on the ball providing a perfect balance to Alvaro Saborio’s strength and composure. When they’re in form together, RSL is extremely difficult to defend.
Espindola’s resurgence the last month is a big reason confidence is so high in RSL circles heading into Wednesday’s critical match at the Seattle Sounders.
“It’s big for us cause he’s a player that’s been here for such a long time,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis. “He’s been an integral part of all of our successes and he has a very clear understanding of what we ask for and how we play, so it’s important that a player that can be that much for you is playing at the top of his game.”
In Real Salt Lake’s past three victories — all wins — Espindola has recorded three goals and three assists. All three assists came in RSL’s 4-0 win at Chivas USA back on Sept. 29, the first hat trick of assists in franchise history. A week later he scored two goals in a 2-1 win at Los Angeles, arguably the biggest win of the season.
For a striker who endured an 889-minute scoring drought earlier in the season, the increased production couldn’t have come at a better time.
Even though Espindola insists he never lost confidence during his rough stretch, Kreis has noticed a significant change.
“From my point of view I think I see a little bit more relaxation. I think he has a tendency to be so incredibly critical of himself that when he does that it starts a vicious cycle of negativity that end up and effects his performances,” said Kreis. “I feel like the past three weeks or four weeks he’s really relaxed and been a little bit more at ease all the time.”
Real Salt Lake could really use another solid performance from Espindola in Seattle.
Leading scorer Saborio is away on international duty with Costa Rica, while midfielder Will Johnson will also miss the match. The status of Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando is also up in the air.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Real Salt Lake leads Seattle by three points for second place in the Western Conference. Both are looking to hold off fourth-place Los Angeles to avoid the No 4 vs. No. 5 one-game playoff on Oct. 31.
Any combination of two points gained by RSL or two points dropped by L.A. the final two weeks will clinch a top-three finish.
Real Salt Lake historically plays well in Seattle with a 2-1-1 record, and defender Nat Borchers said it’s really no secret why.
“I think we really get up for the atmosphere. The crowd is always fantastic, to see the numbers they have in those games,” he said.
The defense has been superb lately for RSL, with just three goals allowed in the past 720 minutes of MLS and Champions League play. It will certainly get tested by the Sounders, who’ve scored in every match but one the past three months.
With a red-hot Espindola leading the charge, Real Salt Lake has scored eight goals in its past three matches, which should make for an intense playoff-type atmosphere at Century Link Field.
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