Real Salt Lake’s maestro, Javier Morales, announced on Thursday that he’s leaving the club that he ably served for ten years.
In my tenure as managing editor of RSL Soapbox over the last four years, I’ve had the privilege of writing about Morales, as well as the privilege of publishing words from some talented writers about him.
I’ve walked through four years of stories about Morales and picked out some key moments, thoughts and statements.
That he's made such an impact at Real Salt Lake was beyond his expectations, Morales says after training on Friday.
"When I came here in 2007, if you told me that, I wouldn't believe it," Morales says of his five years at the club. "I've spent five years of my life here, with my family. I'm very happy with the club, with the fans — so I appreciate it."
I couldn't be happier. Just sign my new contract with RSL. Thanks to the Club, Owner, coaches, teammates and sepcially to the FANS! #RSL2015— Javier Morales (@javi_mo11) January 17, 2013
The answer, by now, should be unequivocal. Javier Morales has started 2013 in fine form; he's on-track to best his personal goalscoring record (seven goals in 2010 — in fewer than half the matches in 2013, he's scored three) and has pulled in three assists so far, but importantly, he's been at the heart of move after move for RSL. Throw in the fact that he's covering as much ground as before — if not more — and it becomes harder and harder to doubt the player has the same ability to make a mark.
My decision ends up as Javier Morales, as without him, we've been a shadow of ourselves. Truly there is no replacement for him, despite the improvement of other attacking midfielders at the club. And to think: At the beginning of the year, there was no word on whether he'd be returning. Imagine where we'd be without him.
His true effect on the team can really be seen when you compare how RSL played when he was on the field compared to when he was off. Morales played 2,281 minutes on the season. During that time, RSL averaged scoring a goal every 44 minutes. This was the highest team scoring rate for any player on the team. During the time that Morales was not on the field RSL averaged scoring a goal every 130 minutes.
Aged 34, Javier Morales scored his first career hat trick. It started in the first minute and ended in the 89th minute against the Houston Dynamo this weekend, and it deserves a bit of recognition — or a lot.
There’s a reason Jeff Cassar handed him the captain’s armband (or, there’s a reason Morales received it by whatever process they follow): He is as much the heartbeat of this side as any player is.
Fifteen seconds is all it took for Morales to break that record, which was previously held by Matias Mantilla, fellow Argentine, against Kansas City Wizards in 2008.
Let's be clear — these goals are incredibly rare. And even when they are scored, they tend to be scored at the far post, not at the near post and certainly not low through the middle, like this one was. That lends this goal a little bit of a special quality. We've seen Thierry Henry, Marco Pappa and Michel score those in the last few years, and Javier Morales is well and truly part of a special class.
Javier Morales had as good of a season as he has ever had with Real Salt Lake. He finished with more goals than he has ever scored in a season with nine and the second most assists in his career with 12. The only time he had more assists was in 2008 when he finished with 15. That is pretty good for a guy that is just about to turn 35. It's better than pretty good, it's eyebrow-raising.
Every once in a great while, we're treated to an opportunity to see an absolutely fantastic free kick and an absolutely fantastic goal. Javier Morales's goal on Saturday was an example of just that.
Each time Morales skips past a player, the opposition is forced to react. They'll either start pushing further forward to try to head him off — opening new space where those players were — or they'll start dropping back, allowing Morales a bit more space in exchange for staying in front of the ball. And as we have seen week-in, week-out, if you give Morales an inch of space, he'll score or find a killer pass.
Javier is like a bottle of aged single malt Scotch — or some fine, fruity wine for those of you that don’t like the smoky goodness that is Scotch: He just keeps getting better every year. So RSL brought him back to see what he still has up his sleeves.
For a long time, Javier Morales was the heart of the RSL attack. He was the one creating chances and linking the squad together. He has been relied upon recently to not only be the creator but also the primary goalscorer for the club. In short, he has been used to the extreme. Now at 36, it has been muttered that he has finally started to taper with age.
But remarkably, Morales is still the metronome in the middle. He leads the team in passes per 90 minutes, besting even Kyle Beckerman. He’s not creating as many chances, but an initial read would tell us that’s because of a shift in the way we play the 4-3-3 — with two immensely creative players on the flanks. Distribution higher up the pitch has started to actually flow through them, and that’s not an accident. That was a failed goal in 2015, and it’s helping the team now.
November 2016: An open letter to Javier Morales
There’s so much that is packed into those two words for me and for so many RSL fans. You came to us at a time when we needed an identity and you helped give it to us. You lead the way with your smile and passion not only for the game but for all of us in the stands and at home watching the magic you created on the field. You gave us so many reasons to believe. Your tweet has shaken the very foundation on which the team we all love so much is built because you are that foundation. Your skill, work ethic, leadership, and devotion will be missed more than I think you or I can understand. The worst part about this whole thing is that you deserved so much more than a goodbye in a tweet. You deserve to be sent off, one last time, with the applause of the thousands who looked to you as the maestro of Real Salt Lake. You deserve a thank you as grand as the glory that you have brought to this club. You’ve earned that and so much more for the joy that you have helped bring to Rio Tinto.
November 2016: The end of an era: Goodbye, Javi
He was the player we rallied around in 2011, when a savage tackle took nearly a season out of his career. He was the player that, a year later, was better than he’d ever been. He was timeless, ageless; he drank from the fountain of youth on a weekly basis.