By Dylan Butler
SALT LAKE CITY – Costa Rica relies on Alvaro Saborio to score goals and to provide leadership during the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
But these days, the Ticos need a little more from their captain. They need to know what to expect from playing at Rio Tinto Stadium and Saborio, who competes for Real Salt Lake, does that better than most.
A standout for club and country, Saborio is enjoying a stretch of some of his best soccer. It’s that reason, along with his experience, that Colombian-born coach Jorge Luis Pinto named him captain for this competition.
“We know that Saborio is a great player,” defender Giancarlo Gonzalez said following training at the University of Utah on Thursday morning. “He can score goals. Saborio keeps maintaining the work the coach wants. That’s why he gets called up.”
It is Saborio’s second time wearing the armband – he also did so in the Copa Centroamericana, which the Ticos won by defeating Honduras in the final in January.
“It’s an honor,” Saborio said. “It’s a pleasure to be captain of this team. I’m focused and happy.”
Although he didn’t score in the Group C opener Tuesday at JELD-WEN Field in Portland, Ore. Tuesday, Saborio was dangerous throughout the game. He has formed a formidable partnership with Jairo Arrieta, who scored a goal in the 3-1 victory over Cuba and who also competes in Major League Soccer for the Columbus Crew.
While Pinto promised tweaks to his lineup for Saturday’s clash with Gold Cup debutants Belize at 3:30 p.m. ET, it appears likely the Saborio-Arrieta partnership will continue.
“I feel fit, I don’t have any injuries and the team is giving me the confidence that is needed,” Saborio said of his current form. “I hope I can do more, have more goals and more assists.”
Saborio is a fan-favorite while competing for Real Salt Lake and he expects that support to carry over to his Ticos teammates Saturday afternoon.
“I think all the Salt Lake fans will be Costa Rica fans in that moment,” Saborio said.
While Saborio earns his paycheck by putting the ball in the net, Gonzalez is responsible for helping keep it out of the net on the other end of the field. The defender, who competes for Valerenga in Norway’s Tippeligaen, is hoping the Ticos can extend a remarkable stretch of six games, including four World Cup qualifiers, without conceding a goal.
“We know we work hard during the week to work on the defensive line,” Gonzalez said. “We have various games without giving up a goal. We keep working hard, motivating each other. We have that trust. It’s not overconfidence, but we’re gaining that confidence so we can get that 1-0.”
Gonzalez said he hasn’t been told by Pinto if he will be selected for Saturday’s match, but that’s not what is important.
“I’m going to try to do the best I can with the team,” he said. “Here, it’s important that the team can advance to the next round. It doesn’t matter who plays and who doesn’t as long as we can get that win.”
Another clean sheet, and perhaps a Saborio goal, and Costa Rica will book its ticket to the quarterfinals even before the final showdown of the group stage against the United States in East Hartford, Conn.
“We know we need to earn the ticket,” Gonzalez said. “Hopefully on Saturday we can get that ticket to advance to the next round before heading up to Hartford.”