Saborio set for long-term stay with RSL; but why is he so underrated in MLS?
San Jose's Chris Wondolowski has scored more goals than any other MLS player in the last three seasons and here's the byproduct: an MVP trophy, nod as MVP finalist, three MLS Best XI and two-time All-Star selections, a Golden Boot award, US national team call-ups and a fresh Designated Player contract.
As for the man right behind Wondolowski on the goalscoring charts over the last three years? He hasn't sniffed the All-Star Game, Best XI or MVP. You probably can't even name him.
So why is it that Real Salt Lake forward Álvaro Saborío is so underappreciated? If we base it simply on the numbers – 43 goals in 84 MLS regular-season matches to date, not counting three playoff tallies and 10 in the CONCACAF Champions League – Saborío's name should always be among the first on the list of MLS stars."I am surprised he doesn't get some of the credit and notoriety he deserves," said Colorado Rapids central defender Drew Moor, who is suspended for Saturday's match against Saborío & Co.
"He is often overlooked in conversations about some of the best attacking-minded players and gifted strikers we've seen in this league," Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis told MLSsoccer.com. "I have no idea as to why this is, but it's not something I ponder."
And so we'll take the time to ponder it here. Especially because Saborío will be sticking around in MLS for another few years after penning a new deal in March that will see him in Claret-and-Cobalt through the end of 2015.
First, he's not a flashy player. No stepovers. No dribbling slaloms. And he doesn't take over games singlehandedly. But he scores goals.
"He doesn't necessarily stand out and wow you with on-the-ball skills and he's not going to beat three, four guys and put the ball in the net," Moor said. "But he gets in the right spots, gets in dangerous spots and puts the ball in the net and that makes for a long day as a defender."
"I wouldn't say he is completely underappreciated because the true testament of a striker is the recognition of the defenders playing against him," said ESPN analyst and former MLS forward Taylor Twellman. "All of them are worried when they play him. Who cares whatever the media thinks? Defenders are well aware of him all the time."
But anything the media can latch on to? He has no eye-catching flip celebrations. No rat tails in his hair. No showmanship. On the contrary, Saborío's sinking shoulders almost give him a sullen, bored look on the field.
And there are no bombastic postgame remarks (although his English is improving). In fact, he doesn't like the media all that much.
"Very, very quiet," Kreis said. "Very much keeps to himself. Not a type of guy that is going to command attention from other people in any type of social setting. He doesn’t do it. Often times he denies interviews and denies availability to the press simply because he just doesn’t like to talk or talk about himself."
"That's the type of players we sign," said RSL GM Garth Lagerwey. "We look for guys who are not looking for headlines all the time and not running their mouths. He's a quiet, hard-working, team-oriented guy. That's how it had to work for us. We weren't sure we could sign DPs [at RSL] and we added Sabo without a wrinkle or ripple. And that's a sign of what a good teammate he is."
Lagerwey is also pragmatic about the topic. He believes Saborío is underrated nationally because he plays in a small market and the club is not regularly featured on national TV.
But the GM that he is, Lagerwey has the numbers handy: RSL are 31-5-6 when Saborío scores. And the Costa Rican international has seven straight years of scoring 15 or more goals in all competitions, including years before MLS.
Those achievements led RSL to extend the contract of their highest-paid player, even during an offseason which saw them embark on a youth movement, shedding a handful of veterans to relieve the club's salary budget.
"The numbers are just absurd to be honest," Kreis said about Saborío. "To score at his rate, it puts you in a complete different stratosphere. And it's not just the number of goals he scored, but the big occasions he scored for us. It just meant that in our eyes he was irreplaceable and a guy we absolutely had to keep."
And the 31-year-old Saborío, who is also busy leading Costa Rica through World Cup qualifying, is happy to stay. During a phone conversation with the player, he raves about Salt Lake City, where he has "many friends," a house and outdoor adventures he relishes with his wife Carolina and his two bulldogs Rex and Tina.
How comfortable is Saborío in Salt Lake? "He expressed some desire with us to finish his soccer career here," noted Kreis.
"The people, the club and the fans have received me very well and all this helped make the decision to renew the contract an easy one," Saborío said. "It's a tranquil city to live in and have a family and all this is important for me to stabilize myself a little."
He sounds looser and more at ease more than at any time during his time in MLS. Comfortable enough in his own skin to explain why the national accolades are yet to arrive in the US.
"I know that the numbers I've put together are good and I know that I have helped the club in what I can," said Saborío, who is expected to slot back into the RSL starting lineup this weekend after sitting out last week due to injury. "If you, the media, or the league want to recognize me for my efforts, then great. If not, I'm going to keep working the same and do things right.
"I think I've done things right to deserve it [the recognition], but I'm also conscious that I'm not American and if I was American it would be different. But all the same, I'm happy for what I'm doing and how I help team."
There's no argument from Saborío's usual head-to-head competitor during Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry clashes and a man who would otherwise be excused for not having a single good word to say about the RSL striker.
"You have to put Sabo in the category with Robbie Keane and Chris Wondolowski," said the Rapids' Moor, who has been an MLS regular since 2005. "If you don't mention Sabo in that group of goalscorers, then I think you're missing something."