SANDY — Alvaro Saborio is the first to admit he never expected to last this long in Utah.
The Costa Rica native came to Real Salt Lake on a one-year loan back in 2010, but a part of him always figured it would be a short-term arrangement before moving on to something different.
That loan, however, turned into a four-year contract that made him RSL’s first-ever designated player, and then another contract. Five years later he couldn’t be happier.
“I like Utah. I enjoy living here,” said the soft-spoken outdoor enthusiast. “I want to be part of the team, part of the city.”
He does what many Utahns do — lives it up in the outdoors. Not only does he have two dogs, but Saborio’s got a bike rack for his Range Rover and loves to mountain bike along the Wasatch Mountains.
In less than a month, he’ll start fitting in with Utah’s family-oriented culture even more. Saborio and his wife — an athlete herself who participates in triathlons — are expecting the birth of their first child on May 20
The birth may ultimately delay his departure to join the Costa Rican national team ahead of the World Cup this summer, but he’s ecstatic to help the RSL family grow by one.
“I want to be a father, I want to make my family bigger, and this is the first step. Now we hope the boy comes healthy and I enjoy it,” said Saborio, who grins and says the next step is to become the best father ever.
The baby’s room is already painted light blue, and it won’t be long until one of the best strikers in MLS is seeking out parenting advice in the locker room from fellow fathers Ned Grabavoy, Javier Morales and Nick Rimando.
Saborio has scored 70 career goals over all competitions for Real Salt Lake since 2010, and Morales believes his security and happiness in Utah are big reasons why.
“It’s really important. If you play in a place that you don’t like, it’s really tough to adapt to the team, to the players. I think the key is everywhere you go you have to feel comfortable,” said Morales.
Of those 70 goals, 55 are MLS regular-season goals in 104 career games. That’s 0.6 goals every 90 minutes, tied with former New England striker Taylor Twellman for the best percentage in MLS history for players with at least 75 career games. Twellman scored 101 career goals in 174 games.
“I guarantee people don’t know that because he’s a quiet person who keeps to himself and doesn’t seek out individual attention, and we need to see the positive in that,” said RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey. “He’s willing to play within the team, and he’s willing to play by our team-is-the-star mantra, and in a lot of ways he’s the best possible fit for us.”
It took Saborio a year or so to truly feel comfortable in Utah. Lagerwey said that Saborio — who’s under contract through the 2015 season — by nature is slow to trust people. It can come off as arrogant or aloof, but Lagerwey said, “If you can treat him well as a person, he will reward that with how he interacts.”
Lagerwey jokes that it’s taken him five years to build that trust with Saborio.
Last season Saborio scored 12 regular-season goals in just 16 matches for RSL, a 0.8 average per 90 minutes, which was best in MLS.
His production has dipped slightly in 2014 with just three goals in seven matches, but coach Jeff Cassar isn’t really concerned.
“I’m sure he’s probably frustrated he’s not scoring as much as he typically does, but what I’m really proud of Sabo is his work rate. He’s been putting it in on both sides of the field, and you’re seeing a good team result. It might not show up on the score sheet for him, but it’s sure showing up on our score sheet,” said Cassar.
Cassar believes a difficult stretch that included four early road games impacted Saborio’s productivity as well.
“We’ve had a lot of tough games, a lot of road games where you’re not going to go out and outscore opponents, so hopefully we can get him on track this weekend,” said Cassar.
After this weekend’s home match against Vancouver, Real Salt Lake will only have Saborio’s services for two more matches before he departs for World Cup preparation — give or take a few days because of the new baby boy.
Saborio hasn’t recorded a shot on goal, much less a goal, in two of the past three matches, something you can bet he’s keen on improving before shifting his focus to Costa Rica this summer and a brutal World Cup draw. The Ticos were lumped into Group D with Uruguay, Italy and England.
“I always try to improve my fitness and my game in the Real Salt Lake games, and this will help me for the next step in the world Cup,” said Saborio.
Costa Rica is the afterthought team in its group after missing out on the 2010 World Cup, and as one website said, “With other teams in Group D battling it out, it’d be a miracle story if Costa Rica was able to advance.”
Unlike his previous foray at the World Cup back in 2006, when then 24-year-old Saborio was an up-and-coming goal-scoring machine who no doubt felt the weight of a nation, this summer is different. He’s married, will be a new father, and at 32 knows he probably only has a few more productive playing years remaining.
Lagerwey wouldn’t be surprised if Saborio channeled all that into a productive trip to Brazil. Whether it was the MLS Cup last year, the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal in Saprissa in 2011, or several other playoff and CCL goals in his career, Lagerwey said Saborio has a knack for scoring the big goals.
“That’s just not easy. It’s a very, very hard thing to do that he does, and I think he does it as well if not better than anybody else in our league,” said Lagerwey.