The month of August started out like no other for D.C. United in 2015. Despite continuing a worrying trend of conceding early at home, twice in fact, against Real Salt Lake, the Black-and-Red eventually triumphed in that game, moving to 41 points from 24 games in a 6-4 win.
That moment almost marked the high point of the month for United though, as Fabian Espindola, who up to that point had only appeared in 11 games due to suspension and injury, picked up another injury in training. United would win the next game, the famous one shot, one goal, victory over the Montreal Impact -- to go along with two CONCACAF Champions League wins -- but the month ended in three consecutive losses in league play. With just two goals scored in the four games Espindola missed.
That's all set to change, as Espindola is finally ready to go for D.C., as they head to Commerce City to take on the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night (9 PM, Comcast SportsNet).
"I was kind of ready for New York. It just didn't feel right kicking the ball, it was super painful," Espindola said Thursday of the decision to not play in the team's 3-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls. "Now I've been training, and I'm ready to go."
"It's tough. One suspension, two injuries, I've missed almost the entire year. Hopefully [I] can stay healthy now, and do something for the team."
Earlier in the season, when Espindola missed the first six games of the season due to his suspension stemming from last season's playoff loss to the Metros, United managed a reasonable three wins and two draws, and they quickly raced out to challenge at the top of the Eastern Conference.
But after just two games, Espindola was spelled to the sideline, after picking up a knee injury against the Columbus Crew. The Argentinian missed another six league games, a stretch that saw United win another two contests, with a bit more struggle in front of net.
"Fabi is a big part of our offense. We survived for long stretches without him," United manager Ben Olsen told B&RU on Thursday. "Jairo [Arrieta] did a great job early in the season, Chris [Rolfe] picked up his goals. So we had more contributions. We were better on set pieces earlier in the year, that's how we got a bunch of our results."
This final time that Espindola missed time has hurt United the most. Though they have barely retained their spot atop the Eastern Conference -- Red Bulls are two points back with three games in hand -- United has fallen behind in the race for the Supporters' Shield.
And even though the team could theoretically qualify for the playoffs this weekend, with a win and help elsewhere, the fact is that the slog of August remains, especially considering the way it ended, in the 3-0 thumping in New Jersey.
Olsen is confident that Espindola's talent, and presence, will be exactly what the team needs to help turn around the current slide.
"Out of the run of play, Fabi is a very important part of our offense, and it will be good to have him back," Olsen said. "Not only for his talent, and what he can do to offset defenses, provide service or create his own goals. But his spirit out there, is one that is contagious to the guys around him."
A two week break since the NYRB loss has been welcomed by the team. Without any media presence, the team practiced all last week, a week in which the players were pushed hard, according to Olsen. Three days off followed, allowing the players time to take time off, get their minds focused on something else for the time being.
The anger from that last loss hasn't quite subsided yet.
"At times it's been moody. Everyone here is a competitor, and we want to win games. We've built a competitive team that isn't used to losing," said Olsen. "So it's been a good negativity around here. One that's a little bit angry. I think we're all committed right now to getting a result."
So in steps Espindola. In his 11 MLS games this year, totaling just over 800 minutes, the striker has contributed three goals and five assists, something he is more than aware of, as looks to rejoin the starting line up against the 'Pids.