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D.C. United Season Review: Alvaro Saborio

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The midseason acquisition from Real Salt Lake gets goat-caked or fox-deathed.

Looking back at when D.C. United acquired Alvaro Saborio in a July trade that sent Luis Silva to Real Salt Lake, reading through the comments, I remain not completely sure what expectations that D.C. fans had of Saborio when he came here, so let me try and float some questions out there:

  • Was it the money hit that drove Sabo's expectations up? He was, after all, in the last year of a deal paying him $493,000 in guaranteed money, a deal he signed in 2013 after posting a 17-goal season when he was 30.
  • Was it the optics of acquiring a #9 who could win aerials and keep the ball with his back to goal so more teammates could be involved? That Sabo doesn't fire a lot of shots on goal was a known quantity, or at least should have been to many.
  • Was it the optics of when he was getting his minutes? Sure, he was toiling around in the summer when the Black and Red were in the midst of their winless streak in July and August, though within that streak it's been noted before that after Davy Arnaud went down, so did D.C. Saborio, but also it should be noted that Sabo's former RSL teammate Fabian Espindola was out for long portions of time. Sabo, Arnaud and Espindola started two games together after Sabo was acquired in July. Sabo and Espindola in the starting XI together? 13 combined shots and 5 shots on goal and an assist in three games, and this excludes the summer goal-a-paloozas against RSL and the Philadelphia Union.
  • Was it because of what was given up? I liked Silva while he was here, but like Chris Pontius, Silva had injury problems that increased since his injury at the end of the 2014 regular season.While Saborio, a then-rental, was traded for Silva, a then-rental, was easy from a financial perspective, that Silva appears to be headed to Liga MX side Tigres makes the exercise of roster continuity beneficial to D.C. on that front as well, considering Saborio re-signed with D.C. in October.
For that matter, on boxcar numbers alone, that Sabo contributed the offense he did considering his role and the teammates around him? Not too shabby, with 4th place on the team in goals (4) and shots on goal (15) and sixth in overall shots (24). Not bad considering he gave the equivalent of five and a half fewer games played than any of the other offensive threats on the team.

Still, I'm not sure where the hate comes from. People equated him to Lionard Pajoy which was not only running to hyperbole way too early, but was also woefully misinformed. Scoring 13 goals in the season in the Columbian A League before coming to MLS, Pajoy scored 10 in 52 MLS games, before returning back to the Columbian A and scoring...1 goal in 20 games there, before being released and his evolution into a weird Peruvian league legend right now. Meanwhile, Saborio won a CONCACAF Champions League title with Saprissa and a Swiss Cup with FC Sion before earning an MLS Cup with RSL and MLS Newcomer of the Year. So try showing a little restraint on this one.

The other comparson being tossed around was that fellow Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta was seemingly a better fit at the forward position. Arrieta, while being a cheerleader and presumably nice guy, has a fairly limited, one dimensional ceiling. Arrieta has a goal, two assists and four shots more on Saborio, and played twice the minutes of Sabo in D.C. Sabo's goals per 90 minutes ratio of .46 was down from his career average of .57, but still led the team, and was certainly better than Arrieta (.36). Looping in Rick's recent statistical analysis, we see that Sabo's half season SoG per 90 total also led the team, and when comparing to Arrieta, they were about equal on the ball from dribbling and passing though Arrieta is a bit better, though Jairo did lose the ball a little more than Sabo did. Sabo also provided more tackling adeptness and won double the amount of aerials than Arrieta, something that the team has little of at forward. Arrieta, while having a SC% of 17.9 that edged out Sabo's 16.7%, hadn't come close to that number since his first year in the League in 2012. Sabo's been in the 16-19% range for the most part since RSL signed him.

This isn't to say that all is milk and honey on the Sabo front. He does turn 34 next March and while the number he re-signed for has been characterized by sources as 'comfortable,' the number of goals he's scored in each MLS season since that 17-goal total has decreased each year from 12 to 8 to last year's 7. D.C. United relying on a 34 year old striker to start 25-30 games in 2016 next year simply can't be seen as sustainable. So while answering the obligatory question, I'll pose an additional question of my own:

What would be considered a successful season for Alvaro Saborio, or more to the point, what would be considered a successful season for what Saborio's role (presumably as a backup striker) should be?