D.C. United finally welcomed their newest acquisition Alvaro Saborio to the team on Wednesday, as the Costa Rican striker joined up with his new team a week after he was traded from Real Salt Lake. After arriving following Costa Rica's departure from the 2015 Gold Cup, Saborio spoke after training on Wednesday about looking forward to starting his tenure with the Black-and-Red.
"I'm happy to be here. I'm excited to start the next chapter of my life," Saborio said after practice.
2015 has been a difficult season for Saborio, one of the best finishers in MLS since his arrival in 2010. In the first five seasons, Saborio scored 60 times, to go along with 13 assists for the Claret and Cobalt. But his production has fallen off in 2015, with Costa Rica's third all-time leading scorer finding the back of the net just three times despite playing over 1000 minutes.
Rumors started floating around recently that Saborio had found himself in trouble with the top brass at Real Salt Lake. That, coupled with a disappointing Gold Cup that saw him play just 108 minutes without a goal as the Ticos were knocked out in the quarterfinals by Mexico, means the move to the 4-time MLS Cup Champions just might help him get back on track.
"A fresh start is good for him. He's coming off the Gold Cup where he saw a little action, but probably not as much as he wanted," United manager Ben Olsen told reporters on Wednesday. "Now it's just a matter, in the next few days, of fitting in with the group as best as he can on and off the field."
For those unfamiliar with Saborio's style, he's the classic "number nine." The sort of piece that United has been missing all season with the unexpected retirement of Eddie Johnson due to a medical ailment. Saborio will occupy the space of top, looking to draw defenders around to open up room for teammates while allowing Fabian Espindola the freedom to do what he does best.
Knocking in goals will also help, as the team has gone nearly an entire month without scoring a goal of their own in MLS play.
"The same thing I've done my whole career," Saborio said when asked what he would bring to the team. "Try to help the team with my goals, keep the ball up front, and make opportunities for the team."
Making the transition of changing teams even easier are the familiar faces that greeted Saborio upon his arrival in the nation's capital. Saborio will likely spend the rest of the season paired up with Espindola, a duo that combined for 65 goals and 21 assists in three years together at RSL. Saborio is also quite familiar with fellow striker Jairo Arrieta, as the two have spent time together with the Costa Rican national team.
"We are very close friends," Saborio said of his relationship with Espindola. "Also with [Arrieta]. I think that's going to help a lot, and I look forward to [getting to know] the other teammates."
The acquisition of Saborio followed a recent trend of moves made by Olsen and General Manager Dave Kasper in bringing in experienced players from around the league to help improve the side. While struggling with bringing in players from abroad to help contribute to the team, the front office has excelled in grabbing assets from around MLS. Indeed, the great rebuild of 2014, in going from worst to first, was centered around the arrivals of Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin, Davy Arnaud, Chris Rolfe, and Espindola.
Trading Luis Silva for Saborio followed that pattern for Olsen and company.
"The thing about dealing with guys in our league is that we know exactly who they are," Olsen said. "It's a little bit of philosophy that we have here, in making sure the riskiness of some of these moves, those percentages are low. Of course he's got to fit in with the team, and it's going to take a little time for that."
The most immediate question regarding Saborio is whether or not he'll start this weekend's game against the Philadelphia Union. Last weekend, Arrieta and Chris Rolfe started together up top, as Espindola served a one-game suspension for his ejection in the game against the Seattle Sounders earlier in the month.
Olsen was pleased with Arrieta's performance, which didn't include a goal, but saw Arrieta force Matt Hedges into an own goal that looked to give United a point on the road before the late Fabian Castillo winner.
"He's in the mix, that's for sure. I didn't get him to sit him on the bench," said Olsen. "But, we have to evaluate a lot of things. I thought [Arrieta] did a good job on the weekend, so it adds more competition to an already competitive group."
During a 11-vs-11 team scrimmage on Wednesday, Saborio was on the the side that closely resembled what could be the starting lineup this weekend. Saborio was partnered up with Espindola, giving the team a glimpse as to what could be the status quo going forward for the rest of the season.
And of course, if it was up to Saborio himself, he'd step right into the starting lineup.
"I feel great. I'm ready for a start. But's its the coaches decision."