SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake fans had plenty to cheer about during the squad's Reserve League game against Chicago on Tuesday afternoon.
And no, it wasn't just the fact RSL won, 2-1. One big reason was the sight of Javier Morales back on the pitch after missing more than a month of action with a right quadriceps injury.
Morales hurt himself back on May 9 during a 0-0 draw at Chicago. After receiving treatment for the past five weeks, he has seen limited training with the team over the past two weeks. But getting him back on the field in a game situation is terrific news for fans, the team and particularly for Morales.
"I'm a little tired, but I'm happy because I'm healthy," said Morales. "It was a tough game and I played 45 minutes. The muscle is feeling good. I had the pull, but it is figured out now and I hope I can play in every game."
Morales was his usual playmaking self on Tuesday – he moved well off the ball, and he displayed his normal magic when it was at his feet. After putting in a half of work, the Argentine is working himself back to a fitness, a process that is sure to be gradual to keep him from having a setback.
"I hope so," said Morales about being ready for minutes against Chivas USA on Saturday. "I was talking with Jason [Kreis], and we will have to see how it is going this week. If everything is OK, hopefully I'll play Saturday."
While the competition may have been a notch below a normal MLS contest, Morales said he doesn't approach playing in a reserve game any differently.
"You just try to play, to give your best. It is still soccer, you know," he said.
Morales has been in and out of the lineup for RSL so far this season. He's appeared in 10 of the team's 14 games, starting six. He has one goal and three assists in 587 minutes of action. But he has been dinged up with little nagging injuries ever since coming back from his four-and-a-half-month recovery from a nasty ankle injury in May of last year.
So it is obviously a point of concern for the Argentinean midfielder to avoid re-injuring his quadriceps, or even worse, sustaining another, more severe setback. And although he drew several fouls with physical play against him, he said that is not something he thinks about when in the heat of the moment.
"Things happen whether with the first team or with the reserves," he said. "You just come out and play hard everyday and do your best."
For Real, they hope they can see Morales back at his best. When healthy and on top of his game, Morales is still one of the top attacking midfielders in MLS. And while 45 minutes of a reserve game are far from the production from the Morales of old, for RSL, it's certainly a start.