Welcome back, Fabian Espindola.
Real Salt Lake beat the Colorado Rapids 2-0 Friday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium behind the Argentinian's two goals and a shutout effort from the RSL defense and goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
"He was spectacular. It has been a long time coming," said coach Jason Kreis of Espindola. "I know he has been very, very frustrated with his injury situation because it has lasted a lot longer than he, or any of us, anticipated. To get him back to full fitness, and for him to have a game like that tonight, going into the stretch of the season, should mean great things for us and for Fabian."
Espindola made his first start since a May 31 game against San Jose. He missed nine full games due to a left MCL sprain and only recently returned to the lineup he played the second half against Houston in a 4-3 loss and 26 minutes against Columbus in a 3-0 loss. He made the 15,257 in attendance take notice of his presence almost immediately.
In the 11th minute, he took a cross from newcomer Will Johnson and fired a left-foot shot that was deflected just over the top by Colorado keeper Preston Burpo. Two minutes later, he had another chance coming in from the left side that was struck just wide.
The 23-year-old striker made the most of his next opportunity as he scored in the 23rd minute. Following a cleverly played back-heel from Andy Williams, Espindola took the ball in stride and blasted a left-foot shot to the back-right corner of the net.
"Really it was Fabian making the run that opened it up for me," said Williams. "I knew that he probably took a couple of guys with him, so I just flicked it and it got to him. If the guys didn't go, I would have looked kind of stupid, but it turned out great."
Espindola added the second goal of the night in the 59th minute. He ran onto a long ball sent by Javier Morales and showed world-class touch with a perfectly placed chip over the 'keeper from the right side.
"Javier gave me a great pass from the top of the arch, and I was able to hit it in," said Espindola through a translator.
While Espindola took care of the offense, all 11 players had a hand in the shutout. The regular starting back four of Ian Joy, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave and Chris Wingert began the game, but according to Kreis, that wasn't important.
"Everybody always wants to talk about the back four and the defenders. For me, it was a team effort," said Kreis. "I believe in a lot of the guys and I believe we should be able to plug players in and do better than we have the last two matches, allowing as many goals, as many chances as we did.
"For me it wasn't about who was in, but it was a more concerted effort by our group and by our team."
The win keeps RSL in second place in the Western Conference (8-8-6, 30 points). Although it was downplayed by the players and coach, it also keeps Real's bid to hold onto the Rocky Mountain Cup alive. The winner will be determined in the season's last game at Colorado (7-12-3, 24 points) on Oct. 25.
"The rivalry never even came up. This is the first time when I have been the coach and we played Colorado and I didn't even bring up the Rocky Mountain Cup," Kreis said.Real hosts Tigres of the Mexican first division in an international friendly Wednesday at 7 p.m.