Javier Morales, who announced his continuation at Real Salt Lake last week, hasn't quite been the same since the ankle break in 2011 that decimated his season.
Even if he's not been the same old Javier Morales, he's shown glimmers of that. Regardless, re-signing the playmaker, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said, illustrates the player's importance.
"Javier, we view as a very central figure in everything we do at our club," Kreis said. "He's a linking guy for us in our locker room, he's obviously the playmaker on the field, he's extremely important for us."
Morales returning wasn't always a sure thing, Kreis said.
"We had a lot of anxiety about whether we were going to be able to get him back," he said. "Now that he's back, we're extremely happy about that situation. In my estimation, a player that hasn't lived up to other people's expectations of him over the past year and a half."
Morales, who told reporters on Monday that he had rejected a contract offer from La Liga club Espanyol during the offseason, recognizes that he hasn't reached pre-injury levels yet, but says his return to fitness in 2012 provides a chance to find that form again in 2013.
"Last year, in the beginning of the year, I said, 'I want to be healthy,' because I was coming from a huge injury," Morales said. "I tried to be healthy all year, tried to just play games and get minutes, but now I'm ready. After that year, I'm very healthy, so I hope I can be the same player as before."
Kreis said Morales is looking to make a statement, to prove that he can perform in the league as he had in years past, when he was considered one of the best playmakers in MLS.
"He comes back, I believe, with something to prove - (he's) very, very hungry," Kreis said. "Even though he's been here the whole time, I think that he has a statement to make in Real Salt Lake and in our league, that he can play at the level he was playing before he got injured."
Finding full fitness was a struggle, Morales said, because he'd never experienced a traumatic injury like the ankle break he suffered in May 2011.
"Last year was tough for me, because I didn't know," Morales said. "I'd never had an injury like what happened in 2011. After six months, I was playing, so I said, 'OK, I'm ready,' but it's not that easy. You have to work a lot. I had a lot of muscle injuries, those kinds of injuries. It's hard because you can train every day, you can play every game. But now, it's going to be different."
Kreis said Morales continues at the club with a point to prove.
"There are a lot of reasons that he hasn't been able to achieve that level of success that he has wanted - that we all have wanted - over the past year and a half," Kreis said. "He comes, I think, with a fresh start and real, real hunger."