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Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio is preparing for CONCACAF Champions League

7-4-12 Sabo 1
7-4-12 Sabo 1

It is interesting how the intensity level has grown over recent weeks for RSL's Alvaro Saborio, and to me it is about one thing, Champions League. When RSL first brought Saborio in a big part of the attraction for him was the ability to play in Champions League, which may not mean much still in the US or with most MLS fans, but in Costa Rica, Mexico and the rest of the region it is a huge tournament and honor to win.

Now it is natural that players would normally get up for big matches, but if you think about the last 3 years for Real Salt Lake, there have been very few "little matches". When you win MLS Cup every team wants to beat you, so every match has a heated feel to it, then when you become the first US team to win a Champions League Group, everyone sees that and you get an even bigger target on your back. When you become the first MLS team to make it to the Champions League final (and no I don't count the old Champions Cup, different tournament, different format), and the whole league jumps on your bandwagon you not only have that target get larger, but now you have every team a bit envious of the attention. When you make it to 3 conference finals in 4 years, every time you take the pitch your opponents know that you are one of the measuring sticks of their season.

Now imagine being a player for RSL knowing that while you may not have the big names like Beckham, De Rosario, Henry, that every match you play will be put under the microscope and you will be measured against your greatest successes. So while I never once could understand the logic of why some fans were critical of some players, or questioned their dedication or passion, I tried to see it from both perspectives. That wasn't easy, but it became a bit easier for me to understand when I took a couple steps back and looked at what Real Salt Lake was facing this year.

more after the jump:

Several times over the last couple years you have head RSL's GM Garth Lagerwey, or coach Jason Kreis, even president Bill Manning talk about how important Champions League is for the team and organization. This year you have also head winning MLS Cup added to the conversation more than in the past, but clearly having let the Champions League trophy slip out of their hands last year is something that weighs on the mind of more than just the staff of RSL.

So what has any of this to do with Alvaro Saborio? Well lets look back the start of the 2011 season when RSL was in the thick of the knock out rounds of Champions League, RSL won two critical matches and both were matches where Alvaro Saborio scored. It was the 2nd leg of the quarterfinals against the Crew where Sabo got the first goal of the series and RSL would go on to win that 4-1. Then in the 1st leg of the Semifinals against his childhood club Saprissa, it was Sabo who again got the scoring going and had the game winner as RSL pulled off the 2-0 win, which allowed them to advance despite losing the 2nd leg 2-1. That goal came on March 15th, and Alvaro Saborio was unable to score a goal in the finals against Monterrey, I also think Sabo took that defeat harder than most other RSL players.

For the rest of 2011 it is interesting to look at Saborio's stats, he didn't score another goal until the end of June, now part of that was that he was resting and trying to recover from the short off-season and the surgery he had during that short break. Yet i f you look at the summer and into the fall you see how Saborio not only got back to from but was a critical part of the team making it to the Western Conference final. His first goal came in the 15th match of the RSL season, after that point he scored in 9 of RSL's remaining matches during the regular season. He also scored 3 of RSL's 4 playoff goals, and while RSL came up just short of making it back to MLS Cup it is clear that the last half of the 2011 season was one where Alvaro Saborio was at his best.

So the start of the 2012 season rolls around and Saborio seems to be struggling as he only scores two goals in the first 10 RSL matches of the season, but then as the spring turns to summer we see him again find his form and in the last 12 matches he has added 9 more goals. To me it simply looks like it takes a bit of time for Saborio to get going during the regular season, but he knows the value of big games and he understands Champions League, he has scored 8 goals in the 2010/11 version of the tournament, the second highest total of the tournament.

What this means to me is that we are just starting to see what I think will be the best from Alvaro Saborio this summer both in MLS action as well as in Champions League, which this year more than before has little room for mistakes.

Anyhow that is my take on why I think Alvaro Saborio is a big game player and ready to help RSL get some solid Champions League results, what do you think?