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Alvaro Saborio spent all of two weeks training with Real Salt Lake this preseason, having dedicated the rest of his time to a Costa Rican national team trying to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
The absence didn't worry RSL coach Jason Kreis much.
"We know what he is," the coach said after Saborio scored two goals to lift RSL to a season-opening win over the San Jose Earthquakes. "We know that he'll score when the most pressure is on. He's that guy for us."
Another thing the 31-year-old is this season: healthy.
The Costa Rican was still dealing with the effects of an offseason surgery when he started his 2012 campaign with Salt Lake. Saborio came on as a substitute in his first three matches of last season, and didn't score a goal until his fourth appearance (and first start) of the year.
"We've got a healthier and sharper, and I think, fitter and more focused player in Alvaro Saborio [this season]," Kreis said.
Saborio came out of the gates charging on Sunday. He got his right foot on the end of a Joao Plata pass over the top of the San Jose defense for his first goal. Saborio followed that up by settling a Kyle Beckerman no-look pass into the box and then beating the keeper with his left foot for his second goal later in the game.
"I feel good," he said. "I don't have any issues this year, so I feel healthy and fit. … I feel happy and that is very important for a player."
RSL will again look to rely on Saborio as it takes on D.C. United on Saturday. Salt Lake has never won in eight matches at RFK Stadium. Real will have to contend with an abbreviated training schedule and a cross-country flight as it looks to rectify that.
For RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, the match is a return to the place where he won his first MLS Cup. It will also be a reunion with United defender Robbie Russell, whose penalty kick secured the 2009 championship for RSL. United will be without midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, who is serving a two-game suspension for a preseason headbutt on Philadelphia's Danny Cruz.
Even without De Rosario in the lineup, D.C. forward Lionard Pajoy and wingers Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon should pose a tough test for an RSL back line that looked shaky, especially in the early goings against San Jose.
The Salt Lake defense, however, settled in during the second half. Kreis said he was particularly impressed with the play of center back Chris Schuler.
"If you pressed me to say one performer of the match, it would be Chris Schuler," the coach said. "It seems like he was all over the field. Every time San Jose was trying to play a pass forward, he was somehow there to win it."
RSL midfielder Javier Morales and center back Nat Borchers participated in part of the team's training on Wednesday. Both players, along with left back Chris Wingert, will miss Saturday's match with United.
Real Salt Lake at D.C. United
O At RFK Stadium (Washington)
Kickoff • Saturday, 5 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4. Radio • 700 AM
Records • Real Salt Lake 1-0-0; D.C. United 0-1-0
Last meeting • Real Salt Lake 1, D.C. United 0 (Sept. 1, 2012)
About D.C. United • Coming off a 2-0 loss at Houston in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference finals. … Midfielder Dwayne De Rosario is serving the second half of a two-match suspension for a preseason head-butt. … John Thorrington made his United debut in De Rosario's absence. … Winger Chris Pontius led D.C. last season with 12 goals.
About Real Salt Lake • RSL has never won a match at RFK Stadium, going 0-5-3 in eight appearances there. … Forward Alvaro Saborio scored two goals (assisted by Joao Plata and Kyle Beckerman) to give Salt Lake a 2-0 season-opening win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday. … Goalie Nick Rimando earned his 100th career shutout in the win over the Earthquakes. … In the same game, Beckerman became the 20th player in MLS to reach 300 regular-season starts.