WASHINGTON – It’s not hard to see just how important Fabian Espindola has been to D.C. United in 2014.
The forward had been putting together an MVP-caliber year prior to suffering an MCL sprain during United’s 4-2 victory over the Montreal Impact on June 1. When combined with a two-week suspension imposed for an altercation with Impact midfielder Felipe in that same match, D.C. may be without Espindola’s services for the next two months.
On Saturday evening, during the team’s disappointing 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders at RFK Stadium, it wasn’t hard to notice Espindola’s absence.
United did well to build out of the back, but too often broke down in midfield, missing the “final ball before the final ball” as D.C. captain Bobby Boswell put it after the match. It’s the type of service that the crafty Argentine often provides, using his guile, grit and creativity to unlock some of MLS’ more stingy defensive units.
Still, United managed to create a handful of chances, something head coach Ben Olsen harped on in his post-match press conference.
“Would I like Fabi on the field?” Olsen asked rhetorically. “Yeah. But I’d like our group to score goals without Fabi. We’ve had a lot of guys contribute in some form or fashion. Have we relied too heavily on him? Yeah, absolutely. But we’ll be OK. We’ll score goals. I think tonight it was just the [final ball] that let us down.”
Espindola, of course, will be a difficult piece to replace. With seven goals and eight assists, he’s been involved in nearly 70 percent of D.C.’s goals this year. Olsen’s go-to replacement has been former Toronto FC forward and midfielder Luis Silva, who played admirably against the Impact but struggled a bit against Seattle, managing but a single shot on goal – one of United's two on the evening – in his 76 minute shift.
After the match, Silva’s teammates were quick to note his other contributions and expressed confidence in his ability to fill in moving forward.
“We have talent in this locker room,” said midfielder Chris Rolfe. "There are plenty of guys that can step up. I think it’s just a matter now of us getting them acclimated to everything and us getting used to them as well – and that includes Luis. He came in and had a great game in Montreal, but not every game is going to be like that. We have got to get used to him and his movements, and when we do we’ll be ok.”
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Also confident after the match was Designated Player Eddie Johnson, who will likely be relied upon heavily during Espindola’s absence. Despite the lack of a final ball, Johnson felt encouraged by his side’s performance and expressed confidence about United’s offensive prospects without the Argentine.
"I think we showed you tonight [that we’ll be fine],” Johnson reflected. “We created a lot of chances without Fabi. He’s been doing really well this year, he’s having a career year, and he’s a very important player to this team. But I don’t think our identity changed at all tonight. We have a deep team, we have guys that can come in and fill guys’ spots.
"Tonight, we just fell asleep on one play and it killed us."