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Imminent Morales return gives RSL an attacking focal point

George Frey

Javier Morales hasn't played a competitive match since 2012 after undergoing surgery during preseason, but his return is close at hand.

Morales has been training fully for the past two weeks, and Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis says he's in contention for Saturday's match against Seattle.

During Morales's absence, Jason Kreis has played with an attacking midfield trio that rotates throughout the match, variously pushing and pulling to attempt to break down the opposition. With Morales back in the side, a focal point returns to a more central position.

"He's going to be a little bit more a focal figure, both for defenses and for our guys," Kreis says of Morales's tactical influence. "When we get the ball, we want to see how many times Javier can touch it in a game. That'll mean that he'll typically be in more central positions."

But with Morales comes a tendency to break into other positions, leaving the center of the pitch open for other players to step in.

"As the game goes, and depending on the tactical shapes we play against, he sometimes has more of an inclination to move into wide positions when we have it, to find a ball and to change the game a little bit," Kreis says. "It means that we've got to be oftentimes more in tune with being dynamic in the midfield and covering up spots when the ball comes over."

Kyle Beckerman, certainly one of Real Salt Lake's established veteran corps, says he's looking forward to having players of their caliber back in contention.

"It's great - they're experienced," Beckerman says of having players like Morales, Wingert and Borchers back. "They're just solid players, and you know what you're going to get. It's something we've been playing with for the past five years. To not have them feels a little weird, so it's been great to see those guys back in training, and hopefully everything keeps in steady progress, really pressing forward for the season, coming through, getting into a groove, and get some wins going."

The absences of players like those three has brought opportunities for young, perhaps untested players. The season so far has seen rookies Devon Sandoval and John Stertzer, as well as newcomers Olmes Garcia, Joao Plata, Lovel Palmer and the like on the pitch. During an early season period in which he was forced to push players into action, Kreis says he's pleased with what they've showed.

"I think it's great," he says. "I really haven't felt like we've put anybody out there and kind of had a fail. In years past, that's not the case. In years past, we have put out a player and felt like, 'Whoa, that's a bit scary.' Not for us this year - especially the young midfielders we've played."

"There are going to be some young forwards getting opportunities here shortly, and I really just feel strongly about everybody's potential - not necessarily where everybody is right now," he says. "We know that we've got a long way to go, but I have a lot of belief in every player on this team."