LEHI, Utah — It's no secret that Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales is a special player. Though it's clear he brings to the game a flair typical of gifted Argentine No. 10, he also displays a humility and workmanlike effort that makes him all that more effective — effective enough that he's a serious contender for this year's MVP honor.
Skeptical? Let’s take a look at a few recent performances that demonstrate the abilities of the 30-year-old playmaker, now in his fourth season with RSL.
MLS All-Star Game, July 28, 2010
Stepping onto the pitch in Houston alongside his hero Guillermo Barros Schelotto — not to mention lining up opposite the legendary Manchester United — could have been an intimidating experience, but Morales was up to the challenge.
Though many of his MLS teammates appeared to be outplayed by their English Premier League counterparts, Morales was not among them. Along with Juan Pablo Angel, Morales received the highest player rating (6.5) for his All-Star performance on MLSsoccer.com after seeing 63 minutes of action and delivering a number of dangerous free kicks into the area. On that night, he was clearly one of the best of the best.
RSL vs. Columbus, August 14, 2010
This was perhaps Morales’ finest performance in an RSL kit, and it earned him an MLS Player of the Week honor, his second of the season, and an MLS Goal of the Week honor, also his second of the season. Morales helped RSL dominate possession of the ball and control the pace of play. In addition, his two wonderful strikes helped make the difference in the 2-0 win.
Although Morales outplayed his countryman Schelotto, he was unwilling to listen to any talks of the personal battle between the two.
“I play for Real Salt Lake,” he emphatically stated, indicating that he wasn’t out there for himself and that his only real concern was helping his team to victory.
This attitude, along with his obvious technical skill, is what separates Morales from many other talented players in the minds of his teammates.
“He’s just all that much better than all of these midfielders,” teammate Nick Rimando told reporters after the match against Columbus. "What makes him better is that he wants the ball, and he plays defense.
He’s a special player for sure. I rate him as one of the best South American players that MLS has ever had — and I played with [Marco] Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, [Carlos] Valderrama. This guy – he does it all. We’re lucky to have him on our team.”
Team captain Kyle Beckerman was equally praiseful.
“For me, he’s the best import we’ve had in this league,” Beckerman said. “He’s awesome, man. Once he gets going – especially if he gets an early goal or early assist – you see him, he’s just in a zone. He’s just unbelievable.”
[inline_node:316922]RSL vs. Cruz Azul, August 25, 2010
Real Salt Lake’s first venture into foreign territory for Champions League action against Cruz Azul was an unusual one. The game was played in a heavy downpour which yielded pockets of standing water all over the pitch.
However, whether it came from experience or just technical ability, Morales seemed one of a few players who was able to deal with the conditions. While others attempted to kick the ball with a lot of force forward and then catch up to it as the water impeded its ability to roll, Morales instead was able to drag the ball on his foot through the water — and through the defenders.
On one occasion he picked up the ball at the top of RSL’s own third and slalomed his way through the Cruz Azul defense before passing the ball to an attacking teammate in the final third.
They ended up losing the a wild shootout by a 5-4 margin, but by the time Morales left the pitch in the 74th minute, RSL held an unlikely 3-1 advantage. However, they were outscored 4-1 over the last 15 minutes and stoppage time as their star playmaker sat and watched.
It’s no coincidence that Morales' team lost its edge almost immediately after he left the pitch. He’s that much of a difference-maker.
So while it remains to be seen whether he’ll be an MVP candidate this season, it’s clear that his abilities should put him in consideration. However, it’s likely that Morales cares little about all of that.
After all, he doesn't play for himself. He “plays for Real Salt Lake.”