SANDY, Utah — No Alvaro Saborio? No problem.
With their top scorer missing because of a sprained joint in his right shoulder, Real Salt Lake knew they were going to need to find a goal from someone not named Saborio if they were to clinch a playoff berth on Saturday night.
RSL found their men for the occasion as their Argentine connection of Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales each found the back of the net in the team's 2-1 win over the Portland Timbers.
"I think we won a tough game, especially when we were a little scared before the game because Sabo wasn't with us," joked Morales. "He almost has scored every goal for us."
Real secured their fifth consecutive playoff berth with the win, and manager Jason Kreis understood how critical it was for the team to find a way to score.
"Important," said Kreis of other players pick up the scoring slack. "I think it was important that we got goals from Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales. … They were big-time plays from big-time players."
The goals from the duo were welcome sights for a team that has struggled to find the net. They were also a little bit of vindication for two players who hadn't scored since June.
Morales' strike, his third on the season, ended a personal 12-game scoreless streak, and Espindola's seventh goal on the season broke a 14-game drought for the forward. The hope is that getting the monkey off his back could be the start of a nice run of goals from the 27-year-old striker.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Kreis of getting Espindola back on track. "I think that his confidence should improve from here on out."
Both RSL goals came on set pieces, on free kicks from just outside the penalty area.
"They're important, for sure," Kreis said. "It is not something we really focus on. Maybe it is something we could try to focus a little more on. Both those goals just came from special individual play. It certainly isn't something we had worked on in training. Espindola's strike was fantastic, and Javier's one-upped him a little bit."
Espindola's came in the 14th minute from 19 yards out. Kyle Beckerman ran over the ball before Morales ran at it and just touched it a little to the left. Espindola hit a bullet through a gap in the wall and into the net. It looked rehearsed with how well orchestrated it was, but Morales said it was spur of the moment.
"I talked with Fabi, and he told me he wanted it," Morales revealed. "I believe we were too close to go over the wall, so I told him, 'stay there and I'll move the ball and go hard.' I think he made a great shot."
OPTA Chalkboard: RSL dominate 1st half vs. Timbers
Morales' goal was world-class. He hit a bending, dipping ball over the wall and to the top-left corner of the net from 25 yards out on the left side.
"I thought it was a very tough angle, you know, so maybe the goalkeeper didn't know if I was going to shoot at goal or cross to somebody's head," said Morales. "I had confidence to try to look at the goal, and I'm happy."
It was the second time this season Morales had a goal on a free kick from almost the same spot.
"I try maybe once a week to practice because I think that the practice (helps) to get better everyday," Morales said.
And now that they've figured out how to score, next up for RSL: finding the back of the net from the run of play.