RSL hopes it can manage ailing strikers back into top form
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Lehi • Alvaro Saborio has not often looked like his old self for Real Salt Lake this season.

With good reason.

The lingering knee injury that the Costa Rican striker had surgically repaired during the offseason — not long before the team bought his contract and made him the first designated player in its history — still is giving him trouble, some six months later.

"Too much," he said.

And while that isn't entirely unexpected, based on what doctors told him, it isn't doing anything to help what has become a worrisome situation up top for RSL.

Its top three forwards all are battling one problem or another, and the team that led Major League Soccer in scoring last season has been shut out in back-to-back games for the first time in nearly two years heading into its meeting with former assistant coach Robin Fraser and Chivas USA at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday.

"It is a bit worrisome," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said, "but we have to just keep working hard. That's all we can do. Put our heads down and put the work in, and hopefully it will pay off on the weekend."

Coach Jason Kreis said he would be "hard-pressed" to say he's worried about scoring, considering RSL scored twice on the road against Monterrey in the Champions League finals barely two weeks ago, and still ranks second in the league in goals per game.

But he is concerned about the health of his top strikers, both physical and mental.

Not only is Saborio trying to battle through his lingering pain, but Fabian Espindola has strained to put his missed chances against Monterrey out of his mind — a "mental situation," Kreis called it — and Paulo Junior has been shelved indefinitely by a hamstring injury.

The team wants to "get him to 100 percent rather than continue to take two steps forward and one step back," Kreis said.

The confluence of problems was on display during a 1-0 loss at Portland last weekend.

Kreis already had left Espindola home, hoping that the time off would help him get over the bitter disappointment of missing some golden chances in the 1-0 home loss to Monterrey last week that kept RSL from winning the Champions League and reaching the FIFA Club World Cup.

He had hoped to give Saborio a needed break, too, but Paulo turned out to be unexpectedly unavailable after aggravating his injury the final minutes of the Monterrey loss.

That forced the coach to keep Saborio in the lineup, alongside Arturo Alvarez — the team's only other forward, who has played most of his career in the midfield — and he could face a similar quandary against Chivas USA.

Saborio is "doing the best he can," Kreis said, "and we're doing the best we can to manage it and get that swelling down every single week so we're ready to go for the weekends. But I know from being there that when you've got anything like that on your mind, it can affect your performance — especially for strikers. It's all about an inch here or there, a push here or there or a two-yard sprint here or there. Makes a lot of difference."

Saborio agreed, saying he has not been able to "make my 100 percent" so far this season.

He has not scored in a league game yet this season, after leading the team with 12 league goals last year, and another six in Champions League play. Both of Saborio's goals this year came in Champions League games — a 4-1 home win over Columbus in the quarterfinals and a 2-0 win over Saprissa of Costa Rica in the semifinals.

At least Saborio has been able to return to training.

He skipped a session earlier this week, along with defender Jamison Olave, who similarly must take occasional breaks to manage nagging knee pain. Saborio said he expects to play against Chivas, too, and hopes his knee is getting closer to fully healthy.

"We have to wait" and see how it goes, he said. "Every day I have to do things, extra work" to help the knee heal.

mcl@sltrib.com —

Rough patch

Until last weekend, RSL had not been shut out in consecutive games in nearly 2 years, since going scoreless in three straight — two losses and a draw — against Chivas USA, Kansas City and D.C. United in 2009. —

Chivas USA at RSL

P Saturday, 2 p.m.

TV • Telefutura