Real Salt Lake may still be reeling from a second consecutive stoppage-time loss, this time in a dramatic 4-3 decision against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night, but there was still one obvious bright spot to be found – the sensational return of Alvaro Saborio.
After missing nine of the team's last 11 games due to either injury or international duty, the franchise's all-time leading scorer re-established himself as a go-to man, scoring a hat-trick in his return, a feat that until the 89th minute looked like it would win the game for RSL.
"It’s truly important to get him back and also scoring goals," RSL head coach Jason Kreis said, following the game. "You know he was critical for us there and he played a very good match. I wondered a bit about his fitness level, coming back from being with Costa Rica for so long."
The goals also proved to be the perfect remedy for a forgettable Gold Cup campaign for Saborio and Costa Rica, with the forward going goalless in the tournament and missing some critical chances in Costa Rica's eventual quarterfinal loss to Honduras.
"I felt good, my teammates were glad to welcome me back," Saborio said, after the game. "I’ve always said I’m very comfortable with Real Salt Lake, I’m happy here and I’m happy because of the goals I scored but I’m very sad because of the way we lost."
After falling behind two goals by the 23rd minute, Saborio grabbed one back in the 45th minute when he converted a penalty kick that was earned by Olmes Garcia. It was Saborio's ninth goal from the spot in 10 attempts in MLS play.
The goal just before the break gave RSL new life and new momentum as they came out on the front foot after spending most of the opening half defending. With the players getting forward more, they caught a break in the 80th minute when a ball bounced their way to the feet of Garcia in the area. The rookie made a smart pass to Saborio, who slotted it in off the hands of 'keeper Luis Robles in the net to tie things up at two.
The Costa Rican completed his hat-trick just two minutes later. On a pass from Joao Plata, Saborio did what he has now done 47 times for the club, hitting a right-footed toe-poke into the upper-right corner of the net for a goal and a short-lived lead.
The third goal was Saborio's seventh on the season, and despite having only played 745 minutes over nine games in 2013, he not only leads the team but is in the top 10 on the MLS scorcing charts.
The flurry of goals on Saturday night mean Saborio is now scoring at a blistering pace, second in the league with 0.85 goals scored for every 90 minutes played. Only Golden Boot leaderCamilo of Vancouver has scored at a higher clip, with 13 goals in 1319 minutes, or 0.89 goals per 90 minutes played.
Though he's back among the goals in a big way, Saborio and crew will once again need to figure out how to regroup and move on from the disappointment. They travel to face Colorado for the last segment of the 2013 Rocky Mountain Cup, needing a win to retain the trophy that's been in their possession for six seasons.
"I would’ve liked to win and come back to the club with a victory, the team played well on my absence and now that I’m back I’m just looking to pitch in and help out," Saborio concluded. "We must now rest and focus on our next opponent."