As a former two time MLS All Star, two time Best XI player and 2010 Defender of the Year, Olave has long been at the core of one of the most stingy defenses in recent league history. Meanwhile, his Argentine partner has made a career of slicing through backlines towards some memorable goals since his arrival in the league.
During the first preseason match against the Columbus Crew, New York took a “precautionary” stance, featuring Olave for mere minutes and Espindola, not at all. Still, Red Bulls coach Mike Petke has seen enough already through his early goings in preseason to know the duo will provide a significant impact this season.
That assessment is no surprise to Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis.
“It’s just part of the world we live in that we couldn’t keep them (both),” Kreis told EoS, “because if we could, we would have probably kept them until they retired.”
From a defender’s, and now coach’s stand point, Petke can see why.
“Olave is exactly that type of player we needed more of last year, which is that cleaner, that bite,” he said. “Guys who are willing to do the dirty work. I look at my time when I played and people may have pegged me as that but when I look at someone like Olave and his size and the tackles he puts in, he makes me look like an offensive midfielder, in a way.
“It’s great to have someone like that in camp.”
The new coach’s praise didn’t stop at the Colombian defender.
“I had the displeasure many times of playing against (Espindola),” Petke continued, “and the one thing that always struck me about Espindola is that everyone looks at of course what he does off the ball and what he does on offense, but as a centerback, he was one of the handful of players in the league, forwards in this league, that I had to be just as worried when we had the ball as I was when they had the ball.”
The Argentine forward’s constant desire to push the envelop has been evident in the early days of camp. In fact, even the ever passionate Petke had to talk to Espindola just to get him to pace himself a bit more.
“I had to go over to him a couple of times and say ‘Fabian, relax, calm down’ because he is running into everything non-stop,” he explained. “It’s something sometimes you have to reel him back in. It’s refreshing in one aspect but in the other aspect, it’s a 90 minute game; it’s not a seven minute possession drill we are doing. We really need to reel him in a little and that’s a great problem to have.”
Those characteristics are nothing new to Kreis. Olave and Espindola were a vital part of Salt Lake’s MLS Cup winning side in 2009. A major contributor to that team, Robbie Findley, has returned West, alleviating some of their offensive losses. Joao Plata has also been signed, giving Salt Lake a pacey set of options for player maker Javier Morales to exploit. Throw in Designated Player Alvaro Saborio into the mix, and the team has a healthy set of options.
“Suddenly we find ourselves in the position where we have three starting caliber forwards compared to last year where we clearly only had two,” he acknowledged. “We are still looking to have four. We do that, it can get pretty competitive around here pretty quick.”
Still, Kreis looks longingly at the duo he once led and acknowledges Salt Lake’s loss is the Red Bulls gain.
“I think it’s clear,” he said. “(The Red Bulls) gain one of the best attackers in this league and one of the best defenders in this league. Immediately, on the day of that trade, they multiplied their ability. They became a much better team when they added those two players.
“Credit to them and credit to the players.”
For more on Jason Kreis and Mike Petke, check out my latest piece on SBI where we discuss “Petke’s first coaching experience taking a path Kreis knows well.”