SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake forward Álvaro Saborío returned from two matches with the Costa Rican national team a little banged up.
Last year, that meant no attack for RSL. This year? No problem.
Rookie second-round draft pick Devon Sandoval took Saborío’s spot up top and went to work – with “work” being the key word – in a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night.
"[Sandoval] gave us exactly what he has been giving us the past few months," said coach Jason Kreis in his postgame press conference. "He just covers so much ground, works so hard and fights so hard for every single ball. … He's basically showing the rest of the guys what Real Salt Lake means to him, what it means this opportunity for him, what it means to get a chance to play professional soccer. I hope all the other guys take notice."
Sandoval did a remarkable job winning balls up top and holding things up, exactly like a prototypical No. 9 striker should do.
"In college that is how they trained me to play at [New Mexico]," said Sandoval. "Our coach, every day, [Jeremy] Fishbein is a good coach. He definitely saw that was my strength and shaped me into the player I am now.”
Yet as well as the rookie played, he still wasn't satisfied with his performance. Saborío – who’s the role model, after all – does all that hold-up work and bags a few goals, too.
"Probably a 'B' because I could have put away a couple chances," Sandoval said about grading his work on the field. "That's my job, so I have a couple of things to work on. I think I could have three goals in the last three games, so I need to step it up."
Even without the goals, Sandoval was a clear net-positive for RSL. His willingness to do the dirty work, and his clever passing the final third opened up chances for just about every single one of his teammates.
"It hasn't been a lot of extra coaching on my part," said Kreis of why Sandoval has had as much success as a rookie playing for a fairly veteran team. "He's always asking questions, asking for answers. It all started in the preseason and it almost started to bother me how much he was asking me. The kid just wants it.
"You see he's not just about hard work. He's a pretty darn good player, pretty good passer with some good ideas.”
So while the first MLS goal still eludes Sandoval, his performance in helping RSL to their second win of the season will be something he can look back on with pride.
"I think it gives me a lot of confidence," he said. "I already felt pretty confident in myself. It is just nice to get a full 90 in a real match. Having that under my belt is good, it's nice."