Losing Joao Plata was supposed to be the blow that derailed Real Salt Lake. Initially, it looked to be, as they were stomped 5-2 at the hands of the LA Galaxy. But as I noted after the loss to the Galaxy, Real Salt Lake actually showed a healthy dose of positives from such a seemingly-debilitating loss.
The main positive from that loss was the reemergence of long-serving Salt Laker Javier Morales. Now 36 years old, Morales has gone from permanent starter to occasional cameos. Or at least, that was until recently.
Recently, Javier Morales has resumed his duties as the lifeblood of this Real Salt Lake side, just as he has always been in their past. In 45 minutes against the LA Galaxy, he created eight chances all on his own. That’s nearly two chances every ten minutes.
Against the Houston Dynamo, we saw the same thing. The Dynamo played a decent enough game in creating a lead that they were unable to hang onto, so Real Salt Lake’s win cannot be dismissed as a win against a lesser opponent. MLS really doesn’t have many ‘lesser opponents’.
Which is what makes Javier Morales’ performance even more special.
The aged midfielder played the full match right smack in the middle of Salt Lake’s token 4-3-3. While he didn’t score or assist, what he did do earned him the man of the match. Morales created another six chances on his own, taking his two game total to 14 creates chances in just 135 minutes of play.
But it wasn’t just his creative play that deserves credit. Morales also completed more defensive actions than any other player ahead of the defense. He completed five dribbles. It was an overall solid match from someone who Real Salt Lake had seemingly tried to push to the background.
I was guilty of thinking that Real Salt Lake were 100% ‘Plata-or-bust’, as many others in the MLS world were. But they dealt that concept a significant blow in the past two matches. They have been relying on Morales and the rest of this Salt Lake offense to create. Yura Movsisyan also scored – finally – against Houston, so if they can get him going, the sky is the limit.
Colorado was first in putting the doubters to bed, but Real Salt Lake are just a few performances away from the same feat. When Joao Plata returns next to an on-target Movsisyan and a resurgent Morales, this team will have the trifecta necessary to maintain relevance throughout the duration of the year.,