SARASOTA, Fla. – Fabián Espíndola’s recent haircut is more than just a change in appearance. It’s also symbolic of the latest chapter in his career and the adaption that requires.
Gone are the trademark flowing locks that Espíndola rocked so extravagantly during most of his years with Real Salt Lake. This days, Argentine forward has opted for substantially shorter look.
On the field, though, he remains the same player who scored a combined 19 times during the past two seasons.
“I’m so happy to have my thought process backed up with his style that he had [during the initial preseason camp],” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told MLSsoccer.com. “On the ball, he’s been very good and willing to listen and do whatever it takes and he’s going to be a valuable addition going forward.
“An option for us to start, come off the bench, whatever his role will be, he is a creative player [and] he’s proven in this league over the last years he’s one of the biggest threats offensively. For us to have a player like him, I feel fortunate.”
Espíndola’s arrival almost certainly played a role in the Red Bulls’ decision to offload Kenny Cooper and his high-priced salary. Cooper, who was traded to FC Dallas on Monday after scoring the second-most goals (18) in the 2012 regular season, is more of a hustler and poacher inside the 18-yard box whereas Espíndola fits the mold of the technically gifted players that the Red Bulls seem to prefer.
In any case, Espíndola will be tasked with helping fill the void left by Cooper’s departure while also acclimating himself to his new surroundings after a trade from Real Salt Lake that took the 27-year-old striker by surprise.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Espíndola told MLSsoccer.com in his first interview since joining the Red Bulls in December. “They hadn’t told me anything beforehand and in the final meeting of the year they told me they weren’t going to need me anymore.”
While he may have been in disbelief at first, Espíndola holds no ill will to his former employers. He knows that change is inevitable in the world of soccer and looks back on his six years in Salt Lake with nothing but fond memories.
“It was all positive,” said Espíndola. “I think we got there, with Javi [Morales] and all the other Latinos that came in afterwards, and we raised the level of the club. Before we got there, Real Salt Lake couldn’t beat anyone.”
Joining Espíndola in New York are two individuals he knows very well. One of them is center back Jámison Olave, who was shipped to the Red Bulls in the same deal that saw Espíndola change addresses. Then, there’s recently hired assistant coach Robin Fraser.
Espíndola, Fraser and Olave may all have one another to lean on as they adjust to their new surroundings in the Big Apple, but of the three Espíndola is the one who may have the toughest time winning over the Red Bulls fans.
Aside from replacing a fan-favorite and prolific scorer in Cooper, he’ll have to prove rumblings that’s he’s difficult to work with are overblown – chatter that made it all the way to New York.
“I heard so much about Espíndola, everything from, ‘He’s a pleasure to work with, phenomenal player,’ to, ‘Watch out, keep an eye on him in the locker room,’” said Petke. “All I’ve seen from him is absolute class and absolute professionalism.”
Of course, it’s still early, but Espíndolahas looked silky smooth on the ball in training while embracing his move to New York, signaling that he may be ready to deliver the big-time plays that made him a known commodity at RSL.
“As soon as I got here, [the staff] told me they were happy to have me and they asked what position I liked to play,” said Espíndola. “I told them as long as they give me a chance, I’ll adapt to playing wherever they need me.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.