SANDY, Utah – In the first match without their playmaker, Javier Morales, who is out to a long-term injury after last weekend’s leg-breaking tackle, Real Salt Lake looked like a team in search of a new attacking leader.
The 0-0 tie at Rio Tinto Stadium against the Houston Dynamo, described by RSL manager Jason Kreis as “some good, some bad” and “a little bit ho hum,” served as a first step for a club needing to move out of the shadow of its best player.
“I think that we’re going to have to answer questions about who is going to be the integral figure when we create chances,” Kreis admitted after the match. “Some of that’s just going to take time.”
The man who was given the playmaking reins against Houston was second-year midfielder, Collen Warner. His 60 minutes on Saturday night didn’t really seem to answer the questions one way or another.
“It wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t good either,” Kreis of the 22-year-old’s performance. “He didn’t check the box and answer his questions. He didn’t put the flag in the ground and say this position is mine, either.”
However, Kreis didn’t feel like this was a one-game trial either.
“We’re not walking out of here, and saying the job’s his, but we’re not walking out of here saying the job isn’t his," Kreis said. "We’re just saying we’ve got work to do.”
Warner was optimistic about his outing.
“It felt pretty good,” he said. “I was really excited to get the chance to play. It went pretty well.
“Overall I thought we were a little off in the final third,” Warner added. “A lot of our passes went astray when you got to the crucial moment where you needed a pass.”
And while RSL is still struggling to put the ball in the net – they’ve failed to score in three of their last four matches – they have been superb defensively this season. The team has given up just two goals in seven outings.
“It was good,” Kreis said of his club’s defensive effort. “The back four in particular made a lot of really important tackles for us tonight. I don’t think we collectively defended as well as I would have liked. So we had to rely on defenders making critical tackles and Nick [Rimando] making some critical saves.”
Regardless of the final 0-0 result against Houston, the bigger picture is that RSL was able to get through this first game without their playmaker and get past the media attention that has come with the high-profile injury and its impact on one of the league’s top clubs.
“We’re ready to move on and we need to with the guys that we have,” RSL defender Chris Wingert said.
“Javi [Morales] is always going to be in my thoughts and prayers and he’s a crucial part of this team,” added RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando. “But we’re a good team and we’ve got to step up and continue to play well without our best player.”