He and I both came from the seedy, beautiful
streets of Buenos Aires to make our homes here, building careers and
reputations in the unlikeliest of places. He, however, is a porteno, an Argentine from the country's capitol city, whereas I, as an Englishman, am just a wannabe gaucho.
I owe Morales my love of soccer. His magical talent introduced me to a sport that my father loves but which I had no feeling for,
despite being a Brit and brought up on the glories of the London team, Spurs. But as Morales tried so desperately to put a
goal in the net in the last minutes of the Western conference final against the New York Red Bulls in November 2008, something
clicked. I understood that passion, grace and a round ball can come together.
Morales is not an easy interview. He keeps his distance, using the third person form of you, usted, rather than the second, more informal you, vos, that fellow Argentine Fabian Espindola, with his fashion-flouting long hair, employs.
When I catch up with Morales occasionally, the first thing he asks is “How are the children?” He’s a family man who two years ago took in then 19 year old Argentine player Nelson Gonzalez when he arrived bewildered, without a word of English, and painfully homesick for Buenos Aires to play for RSL.
Coach Jason Kreis told me Morales was the joker in the pack, that his sense of humor was part of the core that held the team together. Morales learned English quickly and became friends with the fiery, dreadlocked Kyle Beckerman.
I missed what was for me the highlight of following the team, when they won the MLS championship cup in 2009. Morales was taken off the field early in the game, after a crude and questionable tackle by LA Galaxy’s David Beckham. I watched the game on a TV in a Mexican bar. Morales was in tears and coach Kreis standing beside him in the team dug out brushed aside a tear of sympathy.
When I interviewed Morales for my last Real cover on the
team’s fan groups, including La Barra Real, he said testily, in response to a question about why he hadn’t shone
during the season before last, "That’s soccer.” His crushed ankle, at the less than tender age of 31, is one more manifestation of that same phlegmatic rule he stated.
While Kreis faces reconfiguring a team over the last four months without the man whose corners and last minute goals always confirmed how dangerous he was close to the penalty box, for me the loss I most anticipate this season will be the unpredictability that Morales brought to the game.
In the last minutes of a recent home game, Morales displayed the most dazzling counter-intuitive foot work as he wrong-footed not one but two defenders, then drove the ball across the goal mouth into the back of top left corner of the net. In those few seconds the bruisingly physical game that soccer typically is in this country vanished, to be replaced by the genius, the magic of one slender man who can read the game, his team and the opposing players quite like no other.
Morales' gift finally is the opposite of the brutal tackle that took him down. It's the gift of soccer as a sport to aspire to, admire and even cherish. Without him, over these next few months, it's not just his team that is the poorer.