It started with an abrupt tweet on November 3rd of last year that started with, “It is always difficult to say goodbye, but this goodbye hurts a little more.”
This sent the RSL fanbase on a whirlwind of emotions. This shook a fundamental part of the team’s long-run success for the past decade, one that many people took hard and many are still debating it. So began, the Javier Morales Saga.
After the initial shock of the news many fans, including myself, could not understand why the news of Javi’s departure stung so bad. The answer: He is El Maestro. Logging over 19,000 minutes in the regular season and adding 49 goals and 81 assists to his resume was not the main reason for the discontent among many of the RSL faithful; it was the excitement whenever the ball was at his feet and knowing that we would not see that again.
His curving free kicks and how he would place the ball perfectly from distance. It was passion you would see that he had in his eyes when he put on his Jersey. For ten seasons, we became accustomed to seeing him, through the good times and the bad, from bringing the MLS Cup to Utah after their win against the LA Galaxy to his devastating fractured leg, dislocated ankle and torn ligaments from the Chivas USA game in 2011. To imagine a team without him was unthinkable. Now, it’s just a reality.
From the beginning to the end, nothing was ever as it seemed. We assumed that Javi’s farewell tweet was the last we would hear about the whole situation but, then there were rumors poking out everywhere claiming that RSL did not want to renew Javi’s contract. He then organized his own press conference, and it was not held at Rio Tinto Stadium or held by the organization. This was for Javi to answer questions that many of us had.
Reporters had their chance at Morales and asked him what had happened between him and RSL. A big point of conversation was the fact that in his contract there was a guaranteed renewal for his contract through 2017.
“If I start 24 games in the regular season, my contract next year in 2017 will be grand,” Javi said. “The last game of the season against Seattle. Do you know how many games I played before that game? 23. I didn’t start that game.”
Morales said he thought he would get a smaller contract or that it would be renegotiated but that it was not the case.
“I assumed the club was not picking up my option for 2017, even though I was more clear when three days later, in the playoff game against Galaxy, I was back in the starting eleven,” he said.
He then elaborated that it became even more clear that his time with RSL might be over, “I was thinking they will offer me a different contract or something like that. But that never happened. In the meeting, I was informed that they weren’t picking up my option for the next year because they were looking to go in a different way.” He then shared that someone from the organization had tried to reach out to his agent and him to talk the night before the press conference but he was not interested in hearing what they had to say.
The same day, Real Salt Lake’s front office had its own press conference: It was for coach Jeff Cassar’s renewal. But it was overshadowed by questions of Javi’s contract, and whether the team had tried to keep him.
In response to some of those questions, RSL general manager Craig Waibel said, “I don’t think that decision has been made final yet. We had a meeting last week, and unfortunately, it didn’t go exactly as scripted. Not every meeting ends with handshakes and hugs, and there are some very difficult conversations that are had. I think Javi’s a class act. I think Javi will let us know today what his intentions are, and we will fully support whatever they are. Until we know, we don’t know.”
When asked if someone on the current roster could replace Morales, Cassar said, “We’ve had some successful games with Javi out of the lineup, and then we have also not.”
Cassar went on to elaborate, saying, “I think right now, we don’t have anyone on our roster that could play that position like Javi did. He’s a special player and he played and sees the game like not a lot of people in our league have.”
Could this all have been a case of miscommunication or was this a blatant disregard of respect for an icon that has helped build the organization to what it is today? The truth of the matter is, we may never know the whole truth.
Whatever happened, the Javier Morales era is now officially over, and there is a new #11. To say he has big shoes to fill would be an understatement. Let's just see if he can do as much for the team in ten years’ time.