LEHI, Utah – The psyche of any soccer player, particularly a striker, is a funny thing.
While outsiders may view the player one way, the internal dialogue going on inside his own head may be an entirely alternate version of reality. Like a tortured artist who leverages his internal demons to inspire and create on the canvas, similar questions and doubt may inspire, and motivate a striker to perform on the pitch.
Perhaps that’s what’s going on with Real Salt Lake’s Fabian Espindola.
While Javier Morales and Paulo Jr. received many of the plaudits for their offensive display against the LA Galaxy in a 4-1 route at the hands of Real Salt Lake on March 26, it was Espíndola who did much of the dirty work.
His yeoman effort led directly to two of the four goals on the night, with one pass that directly set up a penalty and enough dogged persistence on another play that led to another goal.
But when asked if being involved in the recent victory was a fun experience, Espíndola’s answer was a telling one: “Yeah it is [fun], but when you are a forward, you have to score.”
[inline_node:332176]That surprising frustration became even more apparent when it was pointed out that Espíndola’s effort on the pitch has taken a step forward this season.
“I always try to work hard and score,” he said, “but it sometimes pisses me off when I can’t.”
Espíndola also seemed a bit disbelieving when it was pointed out that his efforts, while they may not translate into his own personal score line, often help the team find results.
“I guess … I don’t know,” he said. “I hope.”
RSL head coach Jason Kreis, himself a former MLS striker, helped provide some insight into what’s going on in Espíndola’s head.
“This is the thing, I think, with Fabian,” Kreis said. “He has the tendency to be very difficult on himself, and can get frustrated and mentally beat himself up. We’ve seen in other matches that if things aren’t going great for him…he gets so frustrated that he gets to the point where you can see he’s done, mentally. And those are the games that we would bring him out.”
Kreis admits Espíndola’s value doesn’t always show through in the stats, but his tenacity in training and in games is invaluable.
“He’s just an absolute headache for some of our guys, some of our defenders, every single day,” Kreis said.
The solution to turning Espíndola’s self-criticism from a negative into a positive has been patience with the striker who sometimes wears his heart on his sleeve.
“We have to continue to make him believe, and make him understand that from a coach’s point of view – I don’t care if he scores every game,” Kreis said. “If he continues to work as hard as he does, and makes small plays for us, and contributes all over the field the way that he does, he doesn’t have to score.”
The root of the problem, Kreis believes, may have something to do with prior experiences and the situation that Espíndola found himself initially after arriving in Salt Lake City.
“It just kind of has that feeling that maybe it’s a little bit of lack of trust in people – in coaches, and in people in leadership positions, in general,” Kreis said. “And I’m hoping that we’ve managed to buy some of that trust.”
“This is time to step forward … both individually and to help this team in a big, big way,” Kreis added. “2011 is huge for Fabián Espíndola.”