LEHI, Utah — This is supposed to be Fabián Espíndola’s breakout season.
Coming into the 2011 campaign, Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis felt like the fifth-year striker was ready to take the league by storm. The 26-year-old Argentine was extremely lively in preseason and during stretches at the onset of the regular season, but he has been hampered by injuries of late.
Now, Espíndola appears to have recovered from a hamstring injury that had slowed him down for several weeks, and he may be ready to get back on the path that his coach envisioned. He showed some glimpses in Real Salt Lake’s most recent match, a 2-1 home loss to the Seattle Sounders.
“He likes to touch the ball and he likes to get involved,” explained Kreis after that loss. “I would say he touched the ball and got involved a lot tonight [last Saturday]. He was very dangerous.”
Espíndola does not typically shrink from the spotlight. He brings a desire to take charge of situations and he has the tenacity to go along with it.
“He was looking to take chances and he wanted to get on the ball and make things happen,” Kreis said. “We need more players that want to do that right now. In my opinion, we have got too many guys that are okay with letting someone else do the job, or take the responsibility, or have the final pass, or take the shot. We need more guys who are going to step up and say ‘I’m going to do it.’”
Kreis admits that trying to extract Espíndola's same enterprising spirit from the rest of his team may be a difficult challenge because for many of the players on the team, it is just not “in their makeup.”
Also, the unselfish, one- and two-touch passing game that has been engrained into his team for the last couple of seasons may have stifled some of the natural instincts in some players to receive a pass, turn up-field and run at the defense. After all, that has been the primary role of Argentine Javier Morales, who is out to a long-term injury.
One player who is not bashful about taking on defenders with the ball is 22-year old midfielder Nelson González. His brash approach to the game might just make him a valuable component to the team, alongside Espíndola, while the team struggles to figure out a way to replace the qualities of Morales.
González came into the Sounders match in the 86th minute, scoring his club's first goal in three matches just two minutes later. His brief performance earned the praise of his coach after that match.
“Certainly, if Nelson comes into the game like that — down a man — and was as bright as he was and scores a goal,” Kreis said, “it’s going to be hard to leave him off the lineup [Saturday vs. Vancouver].”