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Morales earns season's first MLS Player of the Week honors

Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales kicked off his MLS season in grand style on Saturday, and the performance was good enough to earn him Player of the Week honors for Week 1 as voted by the North American Soccer Reporters (NASR).

“It’s always great to start the season off in a big way both individually and as a team,” Morales told over the phone on Monday. “I expected to do well especially after a great preseason. But the truth is that I didn’t imagine I’d score two goals.”

The 30-year-old Argentine powered defending MLS Cup champions RSL to a 3-0 victory at San Jose, scoring two goals and contributing to a third.

In the 14th minute, his spectacular long-distance shot found the upper corner, and he started the play that led to compatriot Fabián Espíndola’s goal just minutes before the break. Morales then rounded out his night in the 54th minute with a majestic curling free kick that again found back of the net. 

 “It’s a goal that you don’t see often,” Morales said of the first goal. “From that distance and with that bounce of the ball—it came off pretty good.”

Morales received 27 of the 31 first-place votes cast by members of the NASR, while Kansas City’s Ryan Smith (three votes) and Columbus Crew star Guillermo Barros Schelotto (one vote) shared the others. Smith also had the most second-place votes with 11. 

Fans last remember Morales limping off the field in tears after picking up an injury just 22 minutes into MLS Cup 2009. That image summed up a frustrating campaign with RSL in which Morales was “was never 100 percent,” according to the Argentine.

 “This year, I want to be well physically and be able to give my best to the team,” Morales said. “Not being able to finish the final last year hurts and I would love to be able to play another final and finish the game. It would be great.”

Salt Lake fans will take heart not only in the performance by Morales but the fact that Real Salt Lake was able win a road game in their first shot. The 2009 team only mustered two wins from 15 regular season away matches.

“In 2009 we were an average team, and many times we didn’t have the confidence to play games on the road,” Morales said. “This year, we’re a lot more mature because we have a title. We have a lot more confidence and it could be a great key for us this year. If we could play on the road the way we play at home, we’re going to do very well.”