The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with our "Best of 2010" awards, running Dec. 13 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award from a variety of categories culled from the storylines of Major League Soccer and the North American soccer scene.
Today we focus on the Transaction of the Year, which goes to Real Salt Lake's perceived gamble on Alvaro Saborio, who some thought wasn't worth the risk for such a tight-knit team.
When Real Salt Lake signed forward Álvaro Saborío in March, he was far from a sure bet for RSL manager Jason Kreis.
The Costa Rican was criticized as “lazy” by fans of English club Bristol City, where he was on loan from Swiss club Sion. Saborío was carrying an injury, battling personal problems and he bolted to Costa Rica with no desire to return to England.
“You do have to wait for these rare opportunities where things aren’t quite 100 percent,” Kreis said. “Half of you thinks that this guys is fed up with soccer and you might have a player who will continue to go downward. Things weren’t going perfectly for him at that moment, but we saw his potential and what was left was to go meet him.”
So Kreis left RSL’s preseason training camp in Arizona and traveled to Costa Rica, where Saborío was training with his former club Saprissa. Although the RSL manager also took the opportunity to speak with former MLS players Roy Myers and Douglas Sequeira about the forward, it was a one-on-one lunch meeting that convinced Kreis.
“His agent ran into some things he needed to do and Sabo and I went by ourselves [to lunch],” Kreis said. “That was a blessing in disguise. It got us to learn about each other in a short amount of time.
“He expressed some disappointment and discouragement in where he was at in his career. It was the perfect opportunity to acquire a player who was hungry to impress.”
WATCH: The Best of Saborío
After they put pen to paper on a loan deal from Sion, Saborío next needed to prove that he could fit on the team. He immediately bought into the work rate and effort that has become the trademark of RSL. Ten games into the MLS season Kreis knew he had a keeper.
[inline_node:324665]The Costa Rican was so driven to prove the naysayers wrong and make the most of this fresh start that he played through a bum right knee all season and later struggled with a serious groin injury that impacted his performance in the playoffs.
Kreis says the doctors who performed the offseason surgery on Saborío’s knee in November were surprised he was able to perform -- 12 goals in league play and another six in the CONCACAF Champions League -- while withstanding what had to be a high degree of pain.
If there was ever a player to sign long-term as the club’s first ever Designated Player, it was the 28-year-old Saborío.
“Alvaro is a very, very quiet individual who often times can be misinterpreted by outside people as arrogant or as lazy just in his demeanor,” Kreis said. “I can see how other managers might look at that and say he doesn’t really care.
“But to be a first-year player and do what he has done in this league, speaks volumes about him as a player and as a person.”
2. Sebastien Le Toux: After a lackluster MLS debut season with the expansion Seattle Sounders, Sebastien Le Toux moved to his second expansion side in as many seasons. But this time his manager, Philadelphia Union boss Peter Nowak, gave him the freedom to roam and attack. The Frenchman rewarded that trust with 14 goals and 11 assists, setting the tone for a style of play that would define the Union in 2010 and redefine the phrase turned T-shirt subject: “Le Toux legit to quit.”
3. Colorado Rapids’ haul: Before the season ever kicked off, manager Gary Smith and technical director Paul Bravo orchestrated the trade for former Rev Jeff Larentowicz, who formed a seamless partnership with veteran Pablo Mastroeni in the heart of the Rapids midfield. Then came the late trades for Brian Mullan and Mac Kandji, moves that clearly stated the Rapids’ ambitions for 2010. It all panned out, capped by Kandji's surge into the FC Dallas penalty box that set up the winning goal of the MLS Cup. All four newcomers played a huge part in Colorado earning their first league title in franchise history.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas), Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting KC), Joel Lindpere (New York), Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez (New York), Geovanni (San Jose), Jon Busch (San Jose)