So last Monday was perhaps the most active day for Real Salt Lake in roster moves since the team took part in the 2004 expansion draft with trades, releases, and signings all taking place on the first day of MLS rosters being un-frozen, but perhaps the most impactful change is still on the clock. Javier Morales is out of contract and Real Salt Lake has made him an offer to remain with the team, but teams in Mexico have also expressed interest in him as well. RSL has said that they expect an answer from Javi this week, and that answer will have a huge impact no matter what the choice is. So let’s take a look at three things, first what Javi’s history with RSL is, what a future with Javi could look like for RSL, and then what a future without Javi might look like.
So Javier Morales was signed by RSL in late 2007 and began making an impact, almost from day one, now at the end of 2012 he sits as a player who in MLS action has over 10,000 minutes for the Claret and Cobalt, 115 starts, 20 goals and 43 assists. His 2010 numbers had him in the mix for league MVP as RSL was the 2nd best team in MLS and he had 7 goals and 9 assists, and he was one of the best creative players in MLS. There aren’t many who would question what a Javier Morales at his best can do on the pitch, he simply makes those around him better both on and off the ball. How good is he, well every year you will find him on the list of the 10 most fouled players in the league. The “Hack-a-Javi” strategy is one that most teams now employ to try to deal with him.
Yet we have to be honest, after the injury that could have ended his career in 2011 it is clear that Javi just hasn’t been the same. There are times when he looks as good or better than he did before the injury, but there are often times that he just isn’t as effective. Now I don’t think the injury alone is to blame, but when you combine that tactics being used against him, potential long term effects of the injury, and time (he will be 33 in less than a month), and those things have added up. Still I think he is a very effective player in MLS and for RSL I think he is still the best creative option we have on the pitch. If he decides to come back, I think he plays a very important role in the future of Real Salt Lake.
Javier Morales, may hold as much future value for RSL for what he can do outside of matches as for what he can do in the future in matches. We have a number of young players looking to establish themselves with RSL and in MLS, and there is no better role model on and off the pitch than Javi. When you think about Luis Gil, Sebastian Velasquez, and David Viana, all players who have a special creative spark in the way they play and see the match, yet each of them lack the experience and wisdom of a player who has been in the league for 6 seasons and has those 10,000 minutes playing for RSL. Helping those players develop could be a lasting legacy for Javi, but realistically he has a couple more seasons of quality play in him and I would love for that to be with RSL. Does that mean that RSL can leave him at the DP level of pay, it would be tight, but there are many things that would be attractive to keep Javi here with RSL. First is the fact he knows what to expect from the staff and his teammates, Javi is a leader on the pitch and in the locker room, his ability to speak both Spanish and English make him a guy that can bridge the language gap for many. Second is the stability of the organization, even with the roster changes made this off season, RSL has kept a large part of their core together, the staff will likely be the same in 2013. Third, relocation isn’t easy, and no matter what so many of my friends say about Salt Lake City, it isn’t a bad place to live and for a family with a small child. SLC is even more attractive when you consider the high crime rate and daily violence that is common in so many parts of Mexico.
Should Javi make the choice to leave RSL and MLS, he will be missed and it would force the hand of RSL to make some rather big changes in a season of big changes. It would however free up about $500,000 in salary cap room, and there are a lot of things that you can do with that much money. You can look to South America and try to find the next Javi, you can use that money to help you keep the next “generation” of core players together at RSL (Enzo, Luis, Sebastian, David, Yordanny, and whoever else comes along). It would force the RSL staff to allow some of our younger players to grow in the fire of action, vs. being brought along slower and with less pressure to perform. I think we have seen in Luis Gil how RSL would like to develop their younger players, without having to put too much pressure on them too soon in their careers, but without Javier Morales that means a lot of minutes that will need to be replaced, then add in the midfield minutes left open with the trade of Will Johnson and the release of Jonny Steele and it is clear someone(s) is/are going to be forced into action sooner than the staff would probably like.
Still we have seen the potential of Luis Gil turn into performance, and with the early season performance of Sebastian Velasquez last year, the future looks very bright for him. Having seen David Viana only in action once (a wild reserve match with Houston), I have very high hopes on what he will be able to deliver in 2013 and beyond. I also think that while few people have seen Enzo Martinez in action, I think he is a player who will start to turn heads as he becomes a more regular fixture in the RSL match day 18 man roster. Still I have to believe that all of those players would benefit greatly from another season of having one of the best in the league to help mentor and tutor them to their full potential.
In a season when we have lost such important players and so many fan favorites, the thought of losing Javier Morales is almost too much to bear with the holidays right around the corner. I know that for a lot of fans, all they really want for Christmas this year is Javier to continue to wear the Claret and Coblat of Real Salt Lake.
That’s How I See It.