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So what does Real Salt Lake do without Javier Morales?

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So this is a post I never thought I would be writing under these circumstances, but the reality is that Javi is gone for at least 4 months and I am going to say that likely the season.  I am not going to panic, because while there is no doubt that the team will not be the same without Javi running the midfield for us, we still have a damn good team.

This does mean that things have to change, the easy answer would be to just say that you will play Andy Williams in that spot, and the reality is that given the recent form of Andy he probably can do it, but this week there were some setbacks in the condition of Andy's wife and I don't know if he will be able to fill that role on a regular basis.  There are simply too many unknowns, all I know is that I will continue to pray for the Williams family.  They are too good of people to have to suffer this much.

Then there is the option to go with 2nd year player Collen Warner, who has shown this year that he has the talent to play with the first XI.  It was Warner who just a few weeks ago lead the reserve laden lineup to a 2-0 win at New England, but with a young player who isn't as experienced with the first team guys he will make mistakes.  I actually think long term this might be the smartest move for RSL as it allows other players to remain in the spots and roles that they are used to.

more extreme options after the jump

So we looked at two options that would require few other changes to the RSL midfield lineup, but with the reality that the team simply hasn't been playing well the last couple weeks, perhaps something a bit more extreme is in order to shake things up?

So there are a couple of other players who may be able to step into that role without disrupting the rest of the formation and lineup, Nelson Gonzalez and Luis Gil.  I don't believe that either of them are ready for very different reasons, neither has the ability to fill that leadership role that Javier brought to the pitch and neither have the experience to fill that role on a day in and day out basis that will likely be needed for the rest of the season.  I do think that both should be looking at this unfortunate injury as a chance to focus and work even harder to get themselves into the mix for minutes this summer.

I think Nelson was a bit out of shape when the team reported but he does appear to be back near the expected fitness level, but in the practice sessions I have watched this year he has looked about the same as he did last year, which isn't bad but there seems to be less progress than other players are showing.  I know like all players he wants to play, and perhaps he is like some who think they deserve the minutes to be given to them, but Jason doesn't run his team that way, you have to work as hard in practice as you do in matches if you want to earn the right to get more minutes.  

Luis Gil has been one of the most improved players in the practice sessions I have seen, and I have been just waiting for the chances to come around for him to get some more minutes in real action.  I think we may see that as the US Open Cup starts, in late June.  He is still a very young player but I think the talent, skill and desire match the work rate that he has shown this season.

Then there are the options of changing our formation, or major changes to the lineup to adjust to the injury.  I think we have to consider that we could move Will Johnson up to the top of the formation into the creative role, he has great ball awareness, a cannon of a shot, and the quality of passing that could fill the role without much of a drop off from what we have today.  Then we could plug someone into his outside position, Arutro Alvarez and Collen Warner seem the most likely options.  This however brings up a huge elephant in the room, the Gold Cup.

RSL will be losing Will Johnson and Arturo Alvarez in a couple weeks as they head off to their national teams to prep for the Gold Cup and we could be missing those players for 6 or more matches (June is a very busy month for RSL).  So do we take that into consideration as we talk about possible changes to the lineup?  I think we have to, and that is why the first two options I believe would be the least disruptive over the long term.  

If we put some trust in Collen Warner and allow him to take that position we still have the depth and experience around him to ease the transition.  This also allows us to not add additional pressure to Andy Williams who needs to be able to focus on his family.  It is a risk to put a second year guy in charge of your offense, but the reality is that this is a team build on a lot of risks and without risk there can be no reward.  This would be a bold step and one that I believe is the right one.

The reality is that you don't replace a Javier Morales, just like FC Dallas can't just replace David Ferreria, and Seattle can't just replace Steve Zakuani.  Teams have to be able to adjust and for over a year we have heard about the depth of Real Salt Lake, well over the next 6-8 weeks we are going to see that depth tested in a lot of ways.  I have trusted in the RSL staff so far and I am going to continue to trust in them to do what is best for the team.

OFF MY SOAPBOX