What did our beloved Claret and Cobalt do the evening of March, 10th? They did what they trained for. They did what they most wanted. They did what they are capable of. They “came to score” (The Aggrolites).
Some exciting news filtered through the works of Major League Soccer yesterday as it became readily apparent that Fabian Espindola is on the verge of meeting and breaking Robbie Findley's career goalscoring record at Real Salt Lake.
Findley, the young American now plying his trade at Nottingham Forest, scored 29 goals with Real Salt Lake before setting off on a jet plane. Credit to Findley, those goals are irreplaceable. The kid was massively important in helping us grab our first MLS Cup, and we were perhaps lucky to have him.
But his reign at the top of the goalscoring charts is nearly up. Fabian Espindola, who was with us, then wasn't, and is again — for good this time, it would seem — is sitting at 28 goals on the season. With his next, he will draw level with little Robbie. With his next after that, he'll go ahead all by himself.
It's a massive achievement for a player that sometimes gets slated for his playing style. Fabian is the sort of player who runs at — and past — defenders, going this-way-and-that as he stretches play and mutilates marking systems. As a combination of attacking winger and forward, he's often found on the flanks — often the left one — as he goes forward.
He's sometimes accused of "not pulling the trigger" when he's through on goal, and sure, there have been times that a more confident finish would have suited him and the team better. But I'd argue that most of the frustration in the stands is rather unjustified: Why, just last week, I heard people calling for him to take a shot when he was maybe 10 yards from the touchline on the left edge of the penalty box. Frustration over him not shooting from that situation, and indeed, many situations he finds himself in, are rather misplaced.
At times, he does seem to hold on to the ball for an abnormally long time, but there's a rational explanation for this, as well. When he's breaking out on a counter and finds himself 1-on-3 or some similarly weighted number, he sometimes loses the ball. It can be a bit frustrating to see him so close to the goalscoring precipice only to lose the ball, but this, I think, is because he's actively concerned with taking good chances and not just every chance that comes his way.
Sure, he's not perfect. At times, he's as frustrating a player as we've got. When things aren't going well for the team, things are rarely going well for Fabian. He lives by the team, and he dies by the team. But slating him for that is unnecessary: Sure, we wish we could have our own Lionel Messi to beat the best defenders on the edge of the box, but heaping those expectations on Fabian Espindola because he's a tricky attacking player seems indelibly harsh.
He's the sort of player who frustrates and delights, but this season, he's done little more than delight fans. With two games gone, he's scored twice — but he's also shown a defensive awareness, evidenced by his 80-yard run to stop a resurgent Thierry Henry opportunity.
So, on the eve of his great achievement, let's all take a moment to remember what he's done for the club. Even when he's a frustrating player, he's our frustrating player. A striker of the classic sort — mercurial and fiery at the best of times — he's a key cog in our system, and without him, we'd be a lesser side. If he can go on this season to score 10, 15 or 20 goals, we'll have a chance at silverware, and he'll be cementing a place in the record books for years to come.
Of course, Fabian shouldn't get too lax when he smashes the record to little bits. Alvaro Saborio, after all, is right behind him with 23 goals.
But that won't be the only milestone he sets this season: Sitting at 97 regular season appearances, he'll only need three more to reach the magically round 100. Perhaps for him, that milestone is just as important.