Sandy • In the 62nd minute, Rio Tinto Stadium exploded.
It wasn't due to a goal or a jaw-dropping save, but due to Javier Morales, the heart of the attack of Real Salt Lake. For the first time in three months, the midfielder stepped onto the pitch in Sandy to a roar he didn't expect to hear.
RSL's most talented and electric player has made more dramatic returns most notably from a horrific ankle dislocation and lower leg fracture he suffered in May 2011 but Saturday night was different for No. 11.
"It was like three long months for me," he said following RSL's 2-1 win over rival Seattle. "I've been working hard, trying to be back as soon as possible and today I had to a chance to play again."
He missed the first five matches of the season after laboring through another injury, a meniscus tear in his right knee suffered Jan. 28, during RSL's first preseason match in Casa Grande, Ariz.
The recovery took a bit longer than expected.
But No. 11 kept plugging away. And Jason Kreis noticed.
He approached Morales on Friday and asked his star Argentine if he was ready to make his 2013 MLS debut.
The 33-year-old smiled and told his coach: "Yes, of course."
"We know if we want to be an elite club in this country and in this league, we're going to need a player like Javier Morales to make differences," Kreis said.
Morales did in the 30-plus minutes he played Saturday night. He drew two free kicks in his first five minutes on the pitch at Rio Tinto. He slammed one corner kick too strong, but found the head of defender Chris Schuler on the next, whose powerful header went wide.
He found forward Joao Plata making runs and looped a ball over the Sounder back line that rookie Devon Sandoval nearly put on frame. In the 85th minute, Sandoval almost repaid the vet on a combination play in the box that eventually left Morales laughing, his hands on his head in search of a penalty call.
No. 11, like he does so well, pestered the opposition. Seattle's Andy Rose fouled Morales in the 87th minute, drawing a yellow card.
A fitting and quite important night in the return of RSL's most pivotal piece.
"It feels like home," Kyle Beckerman said.