One of the big reasons Real Salt Lake was eager to re-sign leading scorer Alvaro Saborio after last season was to have him available for its historic appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals next month.
Is that availability now in jeopardy?
Team officials say it's not, but Saborio emerged from his preseason physical exam on the eve of training camp Friday saying that although he feels well after offseason knee surgery, he still needs three weeks of recovery before he "can start to train."
That would leave him with barely a week before RSL meets the Columbus Crew on Feb. 22 in one of the biggest games in team history. The team is hoping to win the CONCACAF Champions League and earn a place at the prestigious Club World Cup in Japan.
Without a full-strength Saborio, RSL could be significantly shorthanded up top against the Crew in its first game without departed forward Robbie Findley.
But general manager Garth Lagerwey said he was "not aware of any problem" with Saborio's recovery and expects the Costa Rican international to begin training with RSL "at some point" during its 10-day training stretch in Arizona that begins Sunday.
Trainers said Saborio is expected to be integrated into portions of workouts as soon as the team arrives in Arizona.
"I do think he may be three weeks away from full fitness and being able to play 90 minutes," Lagerwey said. But "at this point, there is no doubt 'Sabo' will be ready" to play the Crew next month.
Of course, it could be that Saborio misspoke; English is not his native language, and he did say he has been able to run and kick a ball with little problem.
But he confirmed the three-week time frame when asked a second time, and said he remains uncertain whether he will be ready to face the Crew.
"This, I want," he said. "But we don't know yet."
The 28-year-old Saborio became the team's first high-profile "designated player" in the offseason, signing a new contract that can keep him with RSL through the 2014 season.
But he had surgery just days after RSL's unexpectedly early exit from the Major League Soccer playoffs to repair a knee injury that also caused a groin problem. He said he feels only "a little" residual pain in that area now, and is eager to get back to his usual regimen.
"I feel good," he said with a smile.
Meanwhile, most players will take part in preseason fitness tests on Saturday before departing for RSL's first of two scheduled training stretches in Arizona. Saborio and defender Chris Schuler coming off a broken foot will not participate, though, nor will goalkeeper Nick Rimando or midfielder Arturo Alvarez.
Rimando has been in camp with the U.S. national team in advance of its friendly against Chile on Saturday, while Alvarez recently helped El Salvador qualify for the Gold Cup this summer. Both are expected to join RSL in Arizona.
Jan. 23 •Â Training camp opens in Arizona
Feb. 2 • Team returns for training in Utah
Feb. 6 •Â Second preseason camp begins in Arizona
Feb. 16 •Â Team returns for training in Utah
Feb. 22 •Â RSL vs. Columbus in CONCACAF Champions League