Real Salt Lake has dealt with this before.
General manager Garth Lagerwey reminisced back on his club’s 2011 campaign, when a chunk of the season’s fate was altered in early May when Chivas USA’s Marcos Mondaini chopped down RSL star midfielder Javier Morales, breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle.
Morales missed close to five months, returning in Sept. 2011 in time for RSL to make a run to the Western Conference finals. Lagerwey still maintains had center backs Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave not been dealing with respective injuries — Borchers missed the the 3-1 loss at L.A. — RSL could have made the MLS Cup final.
The parallels between Morales’ nasty leg fracture and forward Alvaro Saborio’s foot fracture suffered last week during a pre-World Cup camp with the Costa Rican national team are there. RSL announced Monday that Saborio, 32, underwent successful foot surgery to repair the broken fifth metatarsal on his right foot. The timetable for RSL’s all-time leading scorer to return to action is 3-to-4 months, meaning either September or October.
As exhausted of a storyline as it became, RSL’s 12-game unbeaten start to 2014 should help ease the pain of losing Saborio, Lagerwey said.
“One of the benefits of that start is we don’t need to panic,” Lagerwey said. “We were averaging two points per game and those are pretty good numbers. We’re probably going to have to be patient and certainly are not going to be doing anything knee-jerk.”
There is, however, no getting around the reality that RSL is hurting. More than Saborio’s perhaps season-altering injury, the attack, thought to be one of the deepest portions of this club, isn’t robust at the time being. Joao Plata is again dealing with hamstring injuries, Robbie Findley is still working his way back to 100 percent after off-season knee surgery and Devon Sandoval is dealing with some knocks. Throw in Jordan Allen out for the year with microfracture knee surgery and the absence of Sebastian Velasquez, away from the team after being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence on May 19, the Saborio injury echoes louder and louder.
“We’re definitely in a rough patch,” Lagerwey said. “I have a lot of confidence in the young guys, but nobody on our team gets a free ride. Hopefully [the young guys] can do it. Hopefully we can ride this out until we get Sabo back.”
Looking toward the future, Lagerwey said the return of captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando — away with the U.S. men’s national team in preparation for the World Cup in Brazil — could help the club gain momentum heading into August and September. The goal, Lagerwey said, is to “get firing on all cylinders before the playoffs.”
With seven core players over the age of 30, Lagerwey knew RSL might have to take a Gregg Popovich approach this season.
“You look at the San Antonio Spurs, they’ve rotated players throughout the entire season to keep them fresh,” he said. “That’s been a pretty good formula for them.”
In the meantime, a beat-up RSL will have to tread water without Saborio for 3-to-4 months and without Beckerman and Rimando until at least early July.
“All along we knew the summer was going to be rough,” Lagerwey said. “We hoped that our young players could step up and get it done. They have time. But the key is playing our best soccer in September and into October.”