Severe injury to Morales casts pall over RSL victory
Sandy • It was an image that could haunt Real Salt Lake for the rest of the year, and perhaps even beyond.
Midfielder Javier Morales atop a stretcher, his hands covering his anguished face and his left leg wrapped in ice and bandages after a crushing tackle from behind that left the star playmaker with a shattered left ankle. The gory injury cast a solemn pall over what turned out to be a 1-0 victory against nine-man Chivas USA at Rio Tinto Stadium and added fuel to an ongoing debate over reckless tackles in Major League Soccer.
"It's just something you never want to see," defender Nat Borchers said.
Midfielder Will Johnson scored the game-winner in the 87th minute, finally rescuing RSL from the looming indignity of another shutout while playing the final 52 minutes with a two-man advantage.
But as he raced to the corner of the field in celebration, he flashed an "11" using his fingers the jersey number of his injured teammate.
"Days like this," he said later, "wins and losses don't really seem relevant."
For the record, RSL improved to 5-1-0 in the league and extended its home unbeaten streak to 28 regular-season MLS games, while avoiding a third straight shutout.
But few people were talking about that, in the wake of yet another savage injury to one of the best players in the league.
Morales was the third star cut down in the past 2 1/2 weeks medics sped him to the hospital after wheeling him off the field on the stretcher and his teammates reacted swiftly.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman angrily confronted the offender, Chivas forward Marcos Mondaini, and players exchanged shoves and harsh words as referee Paul Ward put away the yellow card he initially pulled from his pocket and ejected Mondaini with a red.
"I just felt so bad" for Morales, Beckerman said. "I just wanted to choke-slam somebody."
Fans leaned over a concrete barrier to boo Mondaini as he headed for the locker room, seemingly upset about what he had done. He appeared to have no chance at the ball, and his tackle knocked out Morales for at least four months and possibly the whole season.
Team officials said Morales will have surgery Monday to repair two broken bones, a dislocated ankle and torn ligaments.
"It's extremely unfortunate," said Robin Fraser, the former longtime assistant for RSL who's now the Chivas USA coach. "I feel, obviously, horrible for Javier, and I know Marcos is torn up about it because he's not that type of player."
Mondaini said he didn't mean to hurt Morales.
"I never have the intention of hurting anybody," he said using a translator. "I hope that he recovers promptly. I never have the intention of hurting a player, and I hope that he is playing on the field soon."
Nevertheless, Mondaini can probably expect significant punishment from the league, which has endured plenty of bad press in the wake of previous incidents involving top players.
Forward Steve Zakuani of the Seattle Sounders suffered a broken ankle at the feet of Colorado's Brian Mullan on April 22, while forward David Ferreira of FC Dallas the reigning MLS Most Valuable Player suffered a broken ankle on a hard tackle by Vancouver's Jonny Leathers on April 24.
League officials suspended Mullan for nine games, plus an automatic one for being ejected with a red card, and fined him $5,000. Leathers wasn't additionally suspended.
Coach Jason Kreis and several of his players said they didn't believe Mondaini intended to hurt Morales, but added that his tackle was dangerous.
"From what I saw, I didn't think it was the most flagrant of fouls," Kreis said. "It was from behind, which we're trying to get out of our game. It's in the attacking third, Javi's clearly getting ready to shoot. So I understand the urgency of the situation for a defender trying to make a play."
In any case, RSL clearly had a hard time picking up the pieces after watching Morales leave.
The Goats were down to nine men because defender Andrew Boyens had already been sent off for two yellow-card fouls against RSL's Alvaro Saborio, but RSL strained to find the winning goal frustrated both by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy and Chivas parking almost all its remaining players in the penalty area.
"To get the goal in the end, we're very, very thankful for that," Kreis said. "But we've got a lot of talking to do right now with our players because we need to come out of this funk, and I don't think that performance showed that we were out of this funk."
RSL 1, Chivas USA 0
R IN SHORT • Real Salt Lake beats Chivas USA 1-0 to extend its home unbeaten streak in league play to 28 games.
KEY STAT • RSL outshootsChivas 17-3.
KEY MOMENT • Javier Morales breaks his ankle in 38th minute.