DC United’s signing of Alvaro Saborio on Thursday from Real Salt Lake fills a glaring hole in the club’s attacking front and bolsters their chances of repeating as Eastern Division champions with the chance to make a deep run into the postseason.
In late 2013, as United sought to rebound from a disastrous MLS season, the club acquired Eddie Johnson from the Seattle Sounders as part of plan to build a roster around players with a successful track record in the league.
Johnson, who had scored 23 league goals in two years with Seattle, was to be the target forward United lacked – the guy who would not just put the ball in the net but drive defenders crazy with his size and speed.
The overall rebuilding strategy worked – players like Bobby Boswell, Davy Arnaud and Fabian Espindola established a new culture within the team and led United to an Eastern Conference championship last year with a solid hold on first place midway through the 2015 campaign.
But United’s success has come, despite the fact that Johnson never became the target forward the club expected him to be. Injuries and suspensions limited his playing time and effectiveness in 2014 and he scored just 7 league goals.
A career-threatening medical condition has kept him off the field entirely this year and it appears unlikely he will every play again.
United has tried to make up for the lack of a true target forward by leaning on attacking players like Chris Rolfe, Chris Pontius and Jairo Arrieta fill that hole up top.
Thursday’s trade sending midfielder Luis Silva to Real Salt Lake in exchange for Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio finally gives United the type of player they thought they were getting in Johnson.
“Saborio has been a proven goal scorer throughout his career, especially in Major League Soccer,” Dave Kasper, D.C. United’s General Manager, told the club’s website. “He’s a true No. 9 that will provide an immediate spark to our offense.”
With 63 goals in 127 MLS appearances Saborio epitomizes the type of veteran player the squad is built around and he offers a new dynamic to United’s attack that could prove to be the difference as the club seeks to defend it’s conference title and chase post-season success.
Saborio’s familiarity with Espindola from their time together at Real Salt Lake should ease any adjustment period with his new team and the service he can expect to get from his new teammates like Rolfe and Nick DeLeon would make any target man salivate.
In trading Silva, United gives up a talented attacking midfielder who scored 11 goals for the club last year and has shown the skill to be an influential player in MLS but injuries have held him back – he has played just 346 minutes in 2015 – and with an abundance of players with a similar style United can afford to let him go.
Saborio is 33 years old and his contract expires after this year but United Head Coach Ben Olson told the Washington Post that the club will likely try to sign him to an extension.
Even if he turns out to be a six-month rental, however, this was was a deal worth making.
Those teams haven’t gelled yet but it may just be a matter of time before their spending catapults them to the top of the league.
In the meantime, United needs to take its best shot at winning its 5th MLS Cup this year.
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