When I think of Fabian Espindola, I feel like I'm looking at a player from a bygone era. It's not his playing style; back in the day, he'd have been miscast as a winger and never had the impact he has now. It's his invention and passion. It's the sense of the big moments in matches, where he figures out faster than almost anyone in MLS that a goal or an assist is on the table for his side. It's the anger he plays with, which often drives him to great heights - remember him playing his heart out against KC despite being very sick? - but also may see him miss the first two or three games of the 2015 season suspended. It's things like calling the Supporters Shield a "ghost prize" and casually swearing in most of his interviews with the press. It's goals like this. It's non-goals like this.
Espindola arrived last December in Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft, and is right up there with fellow RED pick Bobby Boswell in terms of his impact on United's season. In fact, those two might be the two best picks in RED history, and Sean Franklin has a shout for third place as well. Upon arrival, Espindola took over the #9 shirt, but didn't play like a #9. Instead, he drifts out to the wing looking for weaknesses in fullbacks or gaps to exploit. It's an unusual style of play for an MLS striker - really, if he were a midfielder, we'd be talking about him as a central winger - and it bedevils defenses.
It's not just his style of play or his quality that makes Espindola a key player for United though. On a team that can tend towards being too direct and too simple going forward, Espindola is the variable in the equation. People complain that United lacks a #10, but the Black-and-Red don't really need one when Espindola, Luis Silva, and Chris Rolfe are all on the field together. That particular weight is split between those three, and Espindola carries the biggest share.
As with any player, there are issues. Espindola had 7 goals and 8 assists after 15 games, but only finished the year with 11 goals and 9 assists. That goes along with the complaint about being streaky that has been lodged against him previously. Still, he managed 4 goals and 1 assist in his final 12 appearances, so it wasn't nearly as bad as his hot-and-cold season with the Metros in 2013. Before being attacked by Felipe in Montreal, Espindola was on pace for an incredible 15 goals and 19 assists.
That game in Montreal kind of summed Espindola up. He was masterful, notching 3 assists. However, he also sought out revenge on Felipe, kicking him in the calf while the ball was out of play and eventually drawing a suspension. Yes, the MLS Disciplinary Committee screwed the situation up: Felipe deserved a three-game ban for his intentional lunge into Espindola's knee and causing him to miss two months injured. However, they did give Espindola an appropriate punishment for getting payback in the wrong way.
The other argument against Espindola from some quarters will be that he's turning 30 in May, and we're already talking about a player that has only managed to play 30 games in an MLS season once. Is there reason to worry about him holding up physically? It's hard to say, but it does seem safe to say that he doesn't have Boswell's durability.
Nonetheless, this vote should be very easy, and if you vote against Espindola you probably fit this description. So let's get this over with: