A black cloth dropped from the rafters of Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night during halftime of Real Salt Lake’s game against the L.A. Galaxy. It revealed Javier Morales’ name etched in gold above the players’ tunnel. Etched alongside it was the former RSL striker’s jersey number, 11.
The name and number of only one other player are engraved in the belt-line of the stadium, those of another legendary RSL striker, and coach, Jason Kreis. Just 45 minutes before Morales’ ceremony, though, Kreis requested the club drop another black cloth — the virtual one that has covered his No. 9 on the RSL roster for the past eight years.
Real Salt Lake retired Kreis’ number in 2011 to honor the man who as a player was the first 100-goal scorer in the MLS and who as a coach led the club to its only MLS Cup championship, in 2009. While the decision to celebrate Kreis’ contributions to the team — as a coach, he took RSL to the playoffs every year from 2008-13 — seemed obvious, the choice to do so by retiring his number drew some criticism.
Though common in many sports, the practice of retiring numbers in soccer is unusual in large part because the numerals represent positions and status more than they do individual players. So, while being honored with the rest of the Cup-winning squad before RSL's 2-1, loss, Kreis said it's time to reverse the action.
"My feeling is, from the beginning I was never really comfortable with the idea of retiring a number," Kreis said. "Certainly I was extremely proud and honored to have my name put on the stadium. But in soccer, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense really. In soccer culture the numbers of the jerseys can be really, really important with what they represent in positions, with what they represent to the fans, what they represent to the players and what they’re trying to bring here.
“In my mind, those things are more important than having my number retired. I’m honored and pleased to have it unretired and give it back to the club.”
Real Salt Lake plans to make No. 9 available starting with the 2020 season.
“I think it’s long overdue,” Kyle Beckerman said. “I think we should have a No. 9 that plays on the team, and it’s an honor to Jason or whoever wears that No. 9. Same thing with Javier, when you see someone take that No. 11, they know it comes with big shoes to fill. I think it’s great. You want a player that wants to wear the No. 9. That’ll be great.”
Morales’ number was not retired by the team.
Forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic wears No. 9 for the Galaxy. He scored what would become the winning goal for the Galaxy in the 79th minute, keeping him just two goals behind the Carlos Vela of the Los Angeles FC in the chase for the Golden Boot, which goes to the MLS player with the most goals in the regular season. One of the most decorated soccer players in the world and a man who recently called himself the “MVP of MVPs,” he said he didn’t expect to have the Galaxy retire his number either.
“I have three statues waiting for me outside the Galaxy stadium,” he said. “I like that more.”