The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For D.C. United’s Alvaro Saborio, it gets real Saturday at RFK Stadium

Alvaro Saborio, left, rises against Philadelphia’s Maurice Edu in his United debut last weekend at RFK Stadium. (Toni L. Sandys/ The Washington Post)

Shortly after acquiring Alvaro Saborio from Real Salt Lake for Luis Silva two weeks ago, D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen realized the teams would soon meet for the only time this season.

“We were like, ‘Oh yeah, we play them,’ ” Olsen said Friday. “We always know the schedule but are usually locked into the two [games] in front of us; that’s at least how my brain works. It crept up pretty quick.”

And so on Saturday night at RFK Stadium, six days after scoring in his United debut, Saborio will reengage with the club he served 5 1/2 seasons and set the organization’s goal record.

Despite the deep ties and long service, the Costa Rican striker does not seem fazed by facing familiar foes so soon after changing alliances.

“I’m not an emotional guy, so I just try to focus on my game,” he said. “After the match, I will say hello to them.”

Silva, who spent two years with United, is seeking his first assignment for Real after recovering from a groin injury.

The United-Real match is also a reunion for Saborio’s old/new front-line partner, Fabian Espindola, who played six years for RSL before joining the New York Red Bulls for one and moving to D.C. last year. As a duo in Salt Lake City, Espindola and Saborio were among the most dangerous and productive combinations in MLS’s recent history.

Saborio’s new coach and teammates have not noticed any additional bounce in his step because Real is in town.

“He seems like he’s not the type of guy that is going to get too worked up about this situation,” Olsen said. “He’s not going to change anything. Would he like to score a goal against his former team? I’m sure. But he also just likes to score goals. It’s what he does.”

Saborio said he harbors no hard feelings toward his former team.

“I play so long for Real Salt Lake, I think my time there was over,” he said. “For me and for my family, it’s good to start over again. … I need a change, the team need a change. I think both clubs are happy with the trade.”

United is very happy. Last Sunday against Philadelphia, Saborio’s impact was felt right away. He began the comeback from a two-goal deficit with a volley late in the first half and provided United with the front-line target the club has lacked all season.

Silva and Espindola worked effectively in their 1 1/2 years together in Washington, sharing the team’s scoring lead in 2014. But Silva is more of a finesse player than Saborio, a physical presence who, by occupying central defenders, provides greater space and freedom to Espindola and wings Chris Rolfe and Nick DeLeon.

“He and Fabi created a much greater gap between Philly’s back line and their midfield,” Rolfe said. “The bigger that gap, the better our attack will be.”

Saborio also “provides an outlet, which our team has needed,” Rolfe added. “There are periods of every game where we defend for a few minutes at a time and we have trouble getting out of those situations. Having a player like him helps us get out of it.”

And adds punch to a team that, despite leading the Eastern Conference with an 11-7-5 record, is in the bottom third of the MLS scoring list and last weekend posted three goals in a league game for just the second time this season.

Real (7-7-8) is bracing for Saborio’s impact.

“Saborio is a handful,” Real midfielder Luke Mulholland told reporters this week in Utah. “I’m sure he’ll be stepping on our defenders’ toes the whole game and giving them elbows. He’s very physical. Technically, he’s a great forward.

“We’ve got to be careful with these types of games when you’re trading a guy to another team. They seem to play well against their old team. So hopefully we can keep him off the score sheet.”

United notes: Midfielder Markus Halsti said his groin injury is minor, but for precautionary reasons, he will remain inactive this weekend. … Long-term absentees Chris Pontius (calf), Michael Farfan (hamstring) and Sean Franklin (Achilles’ tendon) might be reincorporated into the game-day roster soon. … United is 8-1-3 at home; RSL is 2-6-2 on the road with five straight away defeats . … Midfielder Collin Martin (groin) will report to third-division Richmond as early as next week. Defenders Jalen Robinson and Luke Mishu are with the Kickers (7-4-8) for Saturday’s home match against the Harrisburg City Islanders (7-6-4).


D.C. United vs. Real Salt Lake

Where: RFK Stadium.

When: Saturday at 7 p.m.

TV: Comcast SportsNet.

Records: United 11-7-5, 38 points; RSL 7-7-8, 29 points.

D.C. probable starters: GK Andrew Dykstra; Ds Chris Korb, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp; MFs Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, Chris Rolfe; Fs Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio.

RSL probable starters: GK Nick Rimando; Ds Tony Beltran, Aaron Maund, Elias Vasquez, Abdoulie Mansally; MFs Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Luis Gil; Fs Sebastian Jaime, Devon Sandoval, Joao Plata.