With Alvaro Saborio out injured for a couple of weeks and suspended for the biggest match of the year, Real Salt Lake’s biggest question Saturday was, “Where is the scoring going to come from?”
It didn’t take long to get an answer.
Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales both scored off set pieces in the first half, allowing Salt Lake to secure a victory.
Espindola scored in the 14th minute. While the goal, a tricky free kick from outside the box, won’t make Goal of the Week or any non-Salt Lake highlight reels, it was the first goal for the Argentine since June.
Back then, Espindola was headed for a career season, with six goals already in his account. Better still, he had solidified his place as the number two striker on the depth chart and was seeing nearly 90 minutes in every match.
Fast forward a few months and Espindola wasn’t only struggling to score, he was out of the starting lineup. Salt Lake even left him home from a road trip to Philadelphia where he would have been the most rested striker available.
By Saturday night, it wasn’t just Espindola who was struggling, it was the entire non-Saborio offense. The side came in scoring only six goals in its last eight games, with Saborio scoring nine of the last 12 himself.
For a team facing the prospect of being without its top, and in many cases only, scorer in a critical stretch run, Saturday’s two-goal first half was a dream come true.
Certainly, Saturday’s performance is just one game against a fairly poor team, but it’s definitely a start. Salt Lake will have one more struggling team, a road match at Chivas USA, before facing three Western Conference playoff sides to finish the season.
The side will play at the La Galaxy and at the Seattle Sounders before hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps in the season finale. In between, they’ll also host Herediano for that all-important CONCACAF quarterfinal birth.
Those five matches are Salt Lake’s opportunity to secure playoff positioning and round into form headed into the postseason.
This side sat at the top of Power Rankings earlier this season before going into a drought. At one point in June and July, they were the favorites to win the Supporters’ Shield.
A couple bad results, injuries and unlucky bounces changed that. Now the side needs good results to avoid the first round of the playoffs, a penalty reserved for the fourth and fifth seeds in each conference. Saturday’s win was a good first step, but the team needs a few more like it to get where it wants to be.
More goals from Morales and Espindola will help them get there.