When you sit in the Rio Tinto stands to watch a Real Salt Lake game - as opposed to the press box - you can feel the love supporters have for a player. ---At last night's Real's gripping 1-0 defeat of L.A. Galaxy, every time RSL's Argentine midfield genius Javier Morales went to take one of his gorgeous swooping corners, supporters would chant "Javi, Javi, Javi," as if they were in love.
Last night was Morales' night. Right from the start he shaped play after play into Galaxy's box, proving that the South American triumverate of Morales, Avaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola is truly the attacking heart of the team.
But it was those little Morales' gestures that always endure him to the crowd. He'll craftily edge the ball along when he's about to take a free kick, only for the referee to send him back. Then, as if to make a point, the moment the ref turns away, he'll edge it forward again.
When he scored in the 80th minute, memories of the agony of the 2009 MSL cup-night win when a severe Beckham challenge sent him off field in tears to the consoling support of coach Jason Kreis came fresh to mind. His revenge was a beautifully taken, opportunistic chip shot off a rebound from the goal post, and like a needle it punctured all the tension that had built up over a match worth of often beautiful play from Kreis' boys. No longer the up and down bruisers of the past, Real last night demonstrated a maturity of play and conviction that was at times breathtaking to behold.
Kreis let himself enjoy the moment, punching up in the air in a quick, discrete gesture that perfectly captured the man's restraint and yet undoubted overwhelming pleasure in Morales' and his team's success.
After the match, Morales, as is his custom, walked over to the west side of the stadium, hoisted his youngest son into his arms and went to face the TV cameras.