It didn’t matter. His presence had already been felt.
Espíndola enjoyed one of his finest performances in a Red Bulls uniform on Sunday afternoon, harassing Dynamo defenders without end while also breaking a two-month scoring drought that appeared to be weighing heavily on him.
It was the type of game Espíndola needed to bolster his confidence after eight straight league matches without finding the back of the net. It was also good enough to earn him the Man of the Match honors from the announced crowd of more than 25,000 supporters at Red Bull Arena.
“Espíndola is someone that I think very highly of,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told reporters during his postgame press conference. “I always have, when he played in Salt Lake, and that’s the reason why I’m happy he is here. It’s a different way we play with a player like Thierry [Henry], who is very creative and likes to move all over, and Espíndola has found it tough to play in this system.
”He never gave up and I had a feeling about him today to put him up there. I simplified things. I told him I wanted him in between the two [center backs] for the bulk of the game with Thierry dropping and creating a little bit, and you saw the first five minutes, he had three balls come to him and he played simple one-touch layoff, two-touch layoff and spun and that was a big spearhead of our chances that we had. … Today I felt Fabián would get the job done and he did.”
Petke was not the only one convinced that Espíndola was ready to end a scoring slump that dated back to April 20. Designated Player Tim Cahill believed the Argentine forward would net against Houston, so much so that he told both Petke and Espíndola that the day before the game.
“He’s a really important player that does so much work and doesn’t get the plaudits for it,” said Cahill. “He’s a great footballer, he’s a player that every team needs because he does that extra bit of hard work, takes the pressure off the midfield, and you need the players to work for the team. When he gets his goal today, it’s the icing on the cake.”
Espíndola snapped his drought in the 60th minute of Sunday’s victory, scoring the winner in the match by making a well-timed run that Eric Alexander picked out with a great pass before curling a low shot past Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall.
The veteran striker showed little emotion and barely celebrated the goal afterwards, but most of his teammates came over to rejoice with him. They did not just do so because Espíndola had ended their frustrations against a stingy Dynamo defense, but also because they wanted to congratulate him for finally receiving his reward.
“What was missing for Fabián was the goal,” said Henry. “Today he played well, but he scored and as you know obviously because he scored everybody is going to be happy now. But his game is the same, he runs a lot, he helps me a lot up front when we play together and I’m happy for him that he scored.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.