"He's one of the hardest workers I've ever played with," said Montreal Impact midfielder Blake Smith, one of Sandoval's college teammates at New Mexico. "And all the hard work that he's put in has paid off."
Under the lights at Rio Tinto Stadium last Saturday, Sandoval tracked that probing ball at a dead sprint toward Ceus, and a moment of hesitation by the goalkeeper gave the rookie his chance. Sandoval slid at Ceus' feet, stood up only to be brought back down as Ceus fought for the ball. Sandoval got up once again, this time with the ball at his feet and an empty net in front of him.
"I'm feeling it still a bit. That was a pretty good collision," Sandoval said with a laugh during training this week. "But I was pretty happy with that goal for sure."
Sandoval should get another opportunity this weekend. With RSL's leading-goal scorer, Alvaro Saborio, away with the Costa Rican national team, Sandoval is likely to see his first career start.
The goal last Saturday, Sandoval's second in reserve play this season, exemplifies his style and the reason why Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis speaks so highly of the youngster.
"Most of my goals come from effort, scrappy goals like that," Sandoval said. "It's just my style, I guess."
Sandoval is a reserved 21-year-old off the field, but on it he is "intense, focused and confident," New Mexico coach Jeremy Fishbein said.
Sandoval, an Albuquerque native, spent a semester at San Diego State University before deciding to transfer to New Mexico.
Fishbein said he immediately saw a player willing to put in the hours to improve.
"He was always staying and doing extra," the coach said. "Extra finishing, extra strength and conditioning. ... And he was always looking for feedback and doing whatever it took to succeed."
Sandoval went on to score 26 goals and tally 17 assists in three seasons with the Lobos, earning second-team All-American honors his senior year.
RSL certainly has taken notice.
Sandoval impressed Real Salt Lake's staff when he trained with the team last summer before returning to New Mexico for his senior year. A poor showing at the MLS combine caused Sandoval to slip some in January's draft, but Kreis wasn't willing to wait too long to get his man. Kreis convinced RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey to give up a pair of supplemental draft picks to move up two spots for Sandoval.
Sandoval's effort has not disappointed yet.
The rookie has seen action in each of Salt Lake's first three matches of the season. After logging 10 minutes against Colorado's first team last weekend, Sandoval covered more ground than any other player in RSL's reserve match.
"He's just been really, really good," Kreis said. "Really working hard. We calculate the ground he covers. ... To have a forward that covers the most ground on the entire team is saying something. I think he covered 6 or 7 miles."
"It's just showing how extremely hungry he is," Kreis added. "I think also it will show that, in the end, people who want it that badly will tend to succeed in our setup."
Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas
O FC Dallas Stadium (Frisco, Texas)
Kickoff • Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4, Univision
Records • RSL 1-1-1; Dallas 2-1-0
Last meeting • FC Dallas 2, RSL 1 (Aug. 18, 2012)
About RSL • RSL will be missing five players due to international call-ups. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman (USA), goalie Nick Rimando (USA), defender Tony Beltran (USA), defender Abdoulie Mansally (the Gambia) and forward Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica) all have started games for RSL this season.
About FC Dallas • Dallas' only loss has come on the road. … Forward Kenny Cooper was second in MLS in goals scored last year, behind San Jose's Chris Wondolowski and ahead of RSL's Saborio. … Dallas will be without forward Blas Perez (Panama), midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson (Jamaica), goalie Raul Fernandez (Peru) and midfielder Kellyn Acosta (USA U-18) due to international duty.