SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake will be in an uncomfortably familiar position when they on the Portland Timbers on Sunday night in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship (9 pm ET, ESPN, RDS2 in Canada), as head coach Jason Kreis confirmed his team will be without the services of Álvaro Saborío.
The Costa Rican forward, who suffered a pulled muscle that took him out of the last 10 minutes of Salt Lake's 2-0 win over the LA Galaxy on Thursday, has not recovered sufficiently to play on Sunday.
But, as RSL general manager Garth Lagerway said, “We've been here before.”
Saborío, who did not train with his team on Saturday, led the Claret-and-Cobalt with 15 goals during the regular season. But between injuries and international call-ups, he played in just 16 of 34 regular-season matches.
Kreis didn't talk about who might replace Saborío in Sunday's lineup, but the three most obvious alternatives have all started at various times during the season and bring different attributes to the table.
There's Olmes García, who started eight games and and had five goals and four assists in 24 appearances; Devon Sandoval, the rookie who started 10 games and scored three goals in 17 appearances; and Joao Plata, who started 19 games and had four goals and eight assists in 29 appearances.
Sandoval is, perhaps, the most like Saborío in his ability to play the target striker role, holding the ball up and battling inside the box. García and Plata are both speedy forwards with more technical ability.
Although Saborío leads RSL in scoring, he has not dominated the stat sheet. Fifteen different Salt Lake players have scored this season.
“I think it means a lot,” Kreis said of the variety of goalscorers on his team. “It goes right hand-in-hand with what we believe about building a team and our team philosophy. I think that there's too many occasions where leading goal scorers of leagues are on the worst teams in the leagues. And, for me, that's never been something I would take any pride in.
“I'm really, really pleased to see so many guys score goals.”
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