Álvaro Saborío has plenty of reason to smile. Not only did his game-winning goal against the New York Red Bulls last Friday move him solely into first place on D.C. United’s scoring list for 2016, but he also recently received word he’d been named to Costa Rica’s roster for the upcoming Copa America Centenario. “I’m very happy and motivated for this opportunity to represent my country,” Saborío said of his inclusion for the tournament, which kicks off next month in cities across the United States. The MLS veteran--who, over a nearly 15-year international career, has scored more than 30 goals in over 100 appearances for los Ticos--traveled to meet up with his international teammates following United’s match against the Philadelphia Union on Friday.
A classic central striker with a strong physical presence and deft finishing ability--as well as a great propensity to hold up play and combine with teammates--Saborío has experienced ups and downs since moving to the nation’s capital after six stellar seasons in Salt Lake. He hasn’t disappointed in 2016, leading the attack and playing all but one minute of the last three matches before being subbed in the 76th minute against the Union. The Costa Rican says he’ll just continue to do his best for his teammates and his coach. “I try to improve every training, every game. And that’s why we train,” Saborío says. “I try to tell [the coach] I’m ready to play.”
Before coming to United, Saborío was a perennial fixture at Real Salt Lake, where he remains the club’s all-time leading goalscorer with 71 goals (as well as 15 assists) in 147 appearances. Of his 2015 move, “Sabo” says it was a “new step in my career, to come here,” and cites his desire to “make more history with this club.” Nevertheless, he retains only “good feelings” from his time at RSL. In D.C., he’s been reunited with former Salt Lake attacking partner, Fabián Espíndola, and hopes they will rekindle some of that magic together on the field at RFK. He’s also full of praise for Luciano Acosta, with whom he’s most frequently been paired this season, citing the young Argentine’s experience and technical ability.
On joining up with the Costa Rican national team--particularly after having missed out on the 2014 World Cup with a foot injury--Saborío is full of optimism. “We have the best generation ever in [Costa Rican football], so we have to enjoy that and try to win games,” he says. With European-based talent including Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas and Arsenal midfielder Joel Campbell, as well as a number of other top MLS players, this new generation of Ticos look poised to build on their surprisingly deep run two years ago in Brazil, where they made it to the quarterfinals before falling on penalties to the Netherlands. When asked whether he regrets not being a part of that historic run, Saborío says, “I just think about the future, and how we can do in [the Copa America].” They’ll face tough competition--Costa Rica was drawn into a group with Colombia, Paraguay, and a United States team that could include D.C. teammate Steve Birnbaum. But “Sabo” is confident that his country can have another strong run in this tournament. “Hopefully we’ll do well,” he says.
As far as his wishes for the future at club level, United’s number nine feels like he is settling into life in D.C., both in his personal life--he’s been enjoying the city with his wife, Carolina, and their son--and on the field. “I feel good about my game right now, Saborío says. “But I think I can do better.” He might do well to worry less--with four goals in 400 minutes of play, Saborío is--at least at the moment--on track to match or surpass his personal-best 2012 season, in which he notched 17 goals in 2390 minutes of play. But he knows that that will depend on a number of factors. “[As players], the only thing we can do is work harder and wait for our chances,” he says.