Flash back two years.
Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis wants to rest his star forward, Alvaro Saborio, who has been dealing with a lingering knee injury. Fabian Espindola is at home, trying to mentally recover from a poor showing in the Champions League.
And all of a sudden Paulo Jr. pulls up lame.
It was a combination of problems that left Kreis with no other choice but to have Saborio play through pain, and alongside the team’s only other forward, converted midfielder Arturo Alvarez.
Flash forward to now. Those days are over for RSL.
Even as the team deals with a seemingly endless cycle of injuries, including awaiting the return of Saborio after a monthlong absence, the production RSL has seen from its newly stocked stable of forwards has given Kreis greater confidence, and more time when injuries strike.
“There’s no doubt,” the coach said this week. “I’m really pleased with how we’ve built things so far. The progress we’ve seen in our players, the depth in every position, I think it allows us to make very smart decisions ... with guys so they’re not pushing through anything.”
A month ago, Real Salt Lake was nearly finished with training ahead of a matchup with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Players were taking their final shots for the last drill of the day when Saborio fell to the ground and the Real Salt Lake training staff surrounded him. The Costa Rican would later be diagnosed with a quad tear.
In the same training session, Robbie Findley, barely recovered from a groin injury, hyperextended his knee.
It was a scenario the RSL front office hated to see, but one it had prepared for in the offseason by stocking up on forwards.
Kreis has used nine different starting forward combinations this year.
Colombian acquisition Olmes Garcia has scored two goals and hit the woodwork four times in seven appearances so far this year. RSL has seen valuable minutes and a goal out of hardworking rookie Devon Sandoval.
And Joao Plata, Sandoval’s partner up top last weekend, beat Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy for his first goal of the season. The diminutive speedster also has four assists on the year.
“We’ve got a lot of depth on the forward line,” said Findley, who was back on the field last week to score his second goal of the year.
“I think it just brings the best out of everybody here in training and it really makes you work for that spot. Every one has put in the hard work and is contributing. When you have everyone on the same page and working hard for each other it will work out.”
Saborio is also back training fully with the club.
“We’re hopeful that he’ll continue to get better over the next few days and [that] he’s available this weekend,” coach Kreis said this week of his team’s leading-scorer. “But it’s still very much up in the air.”
This time, that’s not such a bad thing for RSL.
Chicago at RSL
P Saturday, 7 p.m., TV • CW30