Photo by Patricia Giobetti/ISIphotos.com
Donning a substitute's bib, Javier Morales went through the motions. Medically cleared to return to action for the first time in months, Morales paced up and down the sidelines at RFK Stadium, staying warm in case he was called upon to try and light a spark under Real Salt Lake.
Considering how Saturday's match against D.C. United unfolded, that chance never came.
"I felt like the game was lost and there was probably nothing positive that could come out of playing him out there," RSL coach Jason Kreis said following Saturday's 4-1 loss. "It was too big a risk."
He'll most likely get the opportunity to rejoin his teammates on the field Wednesday night, instead.
Morales is poised to return when RSL hosts the Chicago Fire at Rio Tinto Stadium, which would mark the first time he'll play since suffering a broken ankle after a bad challenge from Chivas USA's Marcos Mondaini on May 7.
"Frankly, I wanted his first minutes to be at home," Kreis said. "We would have used him (Saturday) in very few circumstances, and obviously it wasn't going to happen."
Although Real Salt Lake has steadied itself in the aftermath of Morales' injury and has all but cemented its place in either the second or third seed in the Western Conference, getting a player of his caliber back at this juncture in the season is an invaluable addition for a squad with championship aspirations.
When healthy, the 31-year-old Argentine playmaker is one of the best in MLS at creating for others and finishing in the final third and adds yet another dynamic to the RSL attack.
He was off to a strong start in 2011, accounting for two goals and two assists in RSL's first two games. He made five starts prior to the injury and was an MLS Best XI honoree in 2010, a season during which he scored seven goals and assisted on nine others.
Morales will likely be eased into action Wednesday and make an appearance in the latter stages of the second half. He was reportedly cleared to play 10-to-15 minutes against D.C. before Kreis ultimately elected to hold his return for another game.
Following the match against the Fire, Morales will have four more games to try and work his way back into his starting position atop RSL's midfield diamond prior to the start of the postseason.
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