Real Salt Lake isn’t blaming its slump on the absence of Alvaro Saborio, but it also isn’t denying that missing its leading scorer has been a big blow to a team still in contention for the Supporters’ Shield.
Salt Lake hopes Saborio will be able to help it avoid a season-high third straight loss Saturday in a road game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, who also may have their top scorer back in the starting lineup.
RSL (14-10-6) sits two points behind Seattle for the Western Conference lead and three off the pace in the Supporters’ Shield race. Salt Lake led that chase two weeks ago before losing its last two matches, 2-0 to the Sounders on Sept. 13 and 2-1 to San Jose last Saturday.
Saborio missed both games due to a nagging calf strain and recently traveled to his native Costa Rica to receive treatment. He has a team-best 10 goals in only 13 matches while nursing various injuries.
The 31-year-old forward, who has scored six times in his last five games, participated in practice this week and has a chance to return Saturday.
“We miss him because he’s a good player, but it’s not that we don’t have the skills,” said midfielder Javier Morales, who scored his ninth goal of the season against San Jose. “I don’t think that missing Saborio is the problem.”
Defender Chris Wingert echoed that thought.
“We’re not going to have every player healthy week in and week out,” Wingert said. “The teams that are going to be successful are teams that have a lot of depth.”
Salt Lake is running out of time to catch Seattle for the West’s No. 1 playoff seed, though, as the Sounders have two games in hand while RSL has four regular-season matches remaining.
“We have to be realistic,” Morales said. “Now we have to focus and improve our soccer and our team. If we want to be in the MLS Cup, we have a lot of work.”
Morales had an assist in a 1-all draw with Vancouver on April 13, then scored in the 71st minute to help RSL beat the Whitecaps 2-0 on May 4. He’ll look to help extend Salt Lake’s unbeaten streak to four over Vancouver, which may not have second-leading scorer Kenny Miller for this contest.
Miller notched his eighth goal on a penalty kick in last Saturday’s 3-0 win over Montreal, but he left in the 60th minute with tightness in his right adductor. Coach Martin Rennie hopes Miller can play but also seems prepared to insert Camilo back into the starting lineup if he can’t.
Camilo scored twice after replacing Miller against the Impact in the first game he didn’t start since April 20. He hadn’t scored in his previous four games, though his 16 goals are tied for the second-most in MLS.
“Camilo came off the bench and did very well, so he might be in line to start (Saturday),” Rennie said.
Vancouver (11-10-8) sits four points behind Colorado and Los Angeles, which are tied for the West’s final playoff spot. The Whitecaps went 1-3-5 in their last nine before beating Montreal, a victory forward Tommy Heinemann believes proved the team is ready to make a postseason push.
“This is a group that’s just coming together, a group that’s growing in confidence,” Heinemann said. “I think we’re starting to put the pieces together.”
Camilo has four goals and two assists in six career matches against Real Salt Lake, including a goal in the first meeting this season.