SANDY — Real Salt Lake fans have no doubt noticed a changing of the guard up top the last few weeks, with Paulo Jr. getting the starting nod over Fabian Espindola in each of the past three games.
When asked about it, RSL coach Jason Kreis said that's just the nature of the beast.
The RSL coaching staff could sense fatigue starting to set in on Espindola a few weeks ago, so it decided to keep the striker out of the starting lineup against both FC Dallas and Tauro FC a couple weeks ago.
"I thought he was fatiguing a little bit. When he fatigues, he makes mental errors, he makes technical errors, he makes tactical errors, he gets himself in trouble with referees," said Kreis.
Paulo Jr. stepped in during those games and, according to Kreis, played very well. Kreis wanted to reward Paulo Jr. for that quality play with another start last weekend, and the Brazilian striker accounted for himself very well as his deflected cross led to the only goal in the 1-0 win over D.C. United.
"He's been involved in several successful results for our team and several very successful performances by himself to make assists and make important plays for our team," said Kreis.
As well as Paulo Jr. has played, it's much too early to be called a striker controversy. Paulo Jr. has scored one goal this year and that was on a penalty kick back in April. Espindola has scored six goals this season, and even though it's been 10 games since his last goal, when he's on his game he and Alvaro Saborio form one of the best 1-2 punches in MLS.
With Saborio away with the Costa Rican National Team the next week, Paulo Jr. and Espindola might both be in the starting lineup for Thursday's game at Houston.
Only time will tell if a rested Espindola can rediscover his early-season form, but time is running out with only six regular season games remaining.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH: When Real Salt Lake learned that Nick Rimando would be called in to camp by U.S. National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann for a pair of World Cup-qualifying matches over the next week, Kreis couldn't help but think, uh-oh.
RSL backup keeper Kyle Reynish had just picked up an injury and wasn't training, and third-string keeper Lalo Fernandez has been out for over a month with a broken wrist.
Sensing Rimando would be the third U.S. keeper on the depth chart and wouldn't even dress for this Friday's game in Jamaica, Kreis asked Klinsmann if Rimando could join the U.S. team after Real Salt Lake's game in Houston this Thursday. He obliged.
"We would never ask that favor if we thought Nick was going to be first or second, but from the look of it it looked like he'd be third," said Kreis.
RSL will still be missing Saborio (Costa Rica), Will Johnson (Canada), Kyle Beckerman (USA) and Chris Wingert (suspended), but at least there's continuity at the back.
ALSO SHORTHANDED: Just like RSL, the Houston Dynamo will also be missing players because of World Cup qualifying this Thursday.
Defenders Andrew Hainualt (Canada) and Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica) are unavailable, as are midfielders Boniek Garcia (Honduras) and Je-Vaughn Watson (Jamaica).
All four have been significant contributors for Houston this year. Hainault and Taylor have appeared in 22 games, with Watson playing in 18 and Garcia 12.
"It does leave some question marks for us about how to prepare for them, but … whenever we have that issue, we tend to become a little bit more focused on ourselves, and that usually ends up doing good things for us," said Kreis.