SANDY — For his own sanity, Fabian Espindola should've been a defender.
No Real Salt Lake player is more outwardly hard on himself than the 25-year-old Argentine forward, and no position is more frustrating than his. Strikers can go weeks and months without scoring a goal, which isn't easy for a player who can't hide his emotions.
Espindola's sometimes fragile psyche is a big reason why his coaches and teammates were thrilled he scored RSL's game-winning goal in Wednesday night's 1-0 win over Colorado.
"He's been awesome for us all season. He's just a pain in the neck for any team we play against. It's good to see him get a goal cause he's really been the set-up man so far," said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman. "For him to get on and get his confidence in scoring is great for the team."
It was his first goal of the season, and the first since scoring against New York in league play early last September.
Despite his lack of scoring, Espindola has been fantastic since the start of training camp, and coach Jason Kreis believes he could have a break-out season.
"I'm really, really pleased when somebody that works so extremely hard is the one that ends up being able to make the difference at the end of the game," said coach Jason Kreis.
Despite his inability to find the net this season prior to Wednesday night, Espindola has handled the situation better than at any point in his five-year career with RSL.
When things didn't go Espindola's way in the past, he had a tendency to fade in matches — and was inevitably subbed off. Conversations between player and coach have helped Espindola not beat himself up so much in those situations.
"This year you've seen him play more full games already than he has for a lot of the other seasons, and that's because mentally he's in a better position this year to not get so frustrated and continue onward and know that we're going to support him no matter what," said Kreis.
It's taken Espindola a long time to reach that maturity level.
When he arrived in Utah in 2007 he was just 20 and didn't speak English. For a player who Kreis said inherently has trust issues with coaches and those in leadership positions, it was a difficult situation to be thrust into.
He lasted a year and a half before joining a Venezuelan team at the end of the 2008 MLS season. It was a short-lived stay though, as Espindola returned to Real Salt Lake six months later in May of 2009.
More so than any other year, RSL is thrilled to have him back.
"He's an absolute headache for some of our guys every day. He doesn't give up on plays, he chases things down and battles with them physically, and I know it has to be extremely difficult to play against him every day," said Kreis. "I know our opponents on the weekend are feeling the same thing."
That's how the Rapids were feeling after Espindola's 93rd minute goal on Wednesday.
For Espindola, it was his most satisfying match of the season.
"Not many people remember the effort that one puts into every play, only the goals that you score. For a striker it is always very frustrating when you can't put the ball into the net, but when your efforts end in a goal, it gives you a huge satisfaction. Goals are a way of life for a striker," he said.
As for Kreis, Espindola's work rate is the most important thing, not the goals.
"We'll have to continue to make him believe and make him understand that from a coaches point of view, I don't care if he scores every game, I really don't," said Kreis. "If he works as hard as he does and makes so many small plays for us and contributes all over the field the way he does, he doesn't have to score."