SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake kept their CONCACAF Champions League hopes alive on Tuesday with a 1-0 win at Panama's Tauro FC, but a dark cloud hung over their victory.
Forward Álvaro Saborío, who scored the game's lone goal on a penalty kick in the 93rd minute, suffered a sprained shoulder as he was brought down for the penalty, and will miss the next two to four weeks of action depending on his response to treatment and pain tolerance.
Saborío's absence could be a huge blow to RSL in the upcoming stretch of MLS games, beginning Saturday night when they host the Portland Timbers (8 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
The Costa Rican had scored 10 of the team's last 17 goals since June 20 and 14 of 26 since May 5, but have not scored more than two goals in an MLS game since July 27. And though things are solid defensively, with the Claret-and-Cobalt having kept a clean sheet in four of their last five games, questions remain about where the offense will come from without Saborío.
"Mentally, we are in a great position defensively. We talked about it when we were going through that stretch, about how we needed to put the focus back on that," said defender Nat Borchers. "We’ve done that, and now, can we build the attack? Can we get some more goals?
"Goals are what makes this game special," continued Borchers. "To create a goal, to score a goal is one of the most difficult things to do in this sport. We are definitely at the stage of the season where we need to put some emphasis on that. If it takes one, if it takes five, whatever, we are going to have to put a few in the back of the net."
Forward Fabián Espíndola could sure use a goal or two. The Argentine is in one of the worst goal droughts of his career, not having found the net since a May 12 contest against Seattle.
"I just need to get a good chance and score – nothing else," Espíndola said of his ignominious streak. "It happens with forwards. Sometimes you score all the time, sometimes you're not."
Fellow forward Paulo Jr. hasn't found the back of the net since the first week in April, and new addition Justin Braun hasn't scored since joining the club in July. So again, where do Real get offense? Perhaps from the same place they have gotten it all season. Defying the prognosis, Saborío trained with the team Friday before heading in to get treatment.
"You guys didn't interview him? Good, 'cause he would have told you he wanted to play tomorrow," joked coach Jason Kreis of Saborío's intentions. "I haven't talked to him yet. I'm getting ready to probably go have an argument with him about it. He wants to play tomorrow.
"The doctors are saying it is mostly a pain issue, but he is at risk. We, in the end, need to make an intelligent decision about it, but I would say from my point of view he is in contention."
While the team certainly could use Saborío, it is not a given he will play.
"There are some other indicators that we got to think about as well," said Kreis. "If the doctor is saying that if he falls wrong he could be out for a month, I think we would probably choose to sacrifice tomorrow night in order to save the next month."
As important as Saborío is, that doesn't mean if he doesn't play RSL can't score. It simply means the offense is going to have to find another person to come up big.
"Other players need to step up," said Kreis. "Other players need to step up and make plays. It is the time of the year where the big players need to step forward. We have some other very gifted players in the attacking third of the field and now they need to step up and make up for that gap."