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Sandy • No player exemplified Real Salt Lake's rise in Major League Soccer the way Javier Morales did.
There were those clutch highlight-reel saves between the posts from goalkeeper Nick Rimando and the crunching midfield tackles that became synonymous with Kyle Beckerman. But it was through the eyes of Morales, the Argentine midfield wizard whose deft touch and needle-thread ability on the ball, that brought RSL up from the cellar. For a decade along the Wasatch Front, he dazzled fans as the point of the team's attack, often leaving opponents perplexed with his unique blend of flair and unpredictability.
After 260 career regular season and postseason matches, Morales' time in an RSL uniform is up.
On Thursday afternoon, the 36-year-old midfielder posted a lengthy note on Twitter stating that it's time for him move on, ending a legendary 10-year span in Utah. Morales' post was a tribute to the RSL franchise, its fan base and the people of the state that embraced he and his young family.
"It is always difficult to say goodbye," he wrote, "but this goodbye hurts a little more. After 10 years it is time to leave a place which has felt like home."
To Morales, the ideal final goodbye would have come inside a packed Rio Tinto Stadium, but reality didn't mesh with his dreams. His last match with RSL was a 3-1 first-round playoff loss at the L.A. Galaxy on Oct. 26. When the final whistle blew, he was seen on TV walking off the pitch with tears in his eyes.
In his farewell, Morales did not mention retirement, which could lend a hint that he's simply choosing to move on.
"RSL is not closing any doors, but the choices and decisions to be made reside in Javier's court," said RSL team spokesman Trey Fitz-Gerald.
So for the first time since 2006 the club's second year of existence RSL will be without Morales. In 10 seasons at RSL, Morales amassed 49 goals and 81 assists, the most in club history. In 2016, Morales had four goals and notched four assists in 23 starts, his lowest combined output since the 2011 season when he suffered a horrific leg fracture that spring.
The Argentine playmaker was not only the focal point of RSL's offense for a decade, he helped guide RSL to four respective Cup finals, including the team's only trophy, the 2009 MLS Cup. In 20 career MLS postseason matches, Morales had three goals and nine assists.
It is his legacy at the club that now has a sudden ending. Never fleet of foot, Morales possessed a rare innate ability to slow the game down by simply finding the ball at any point on the field. While his innovative approach often left defenders stumped, he managed to be on the same page with his teammates.
Few players in MLS shouldered the load of being a team's focal point like Morales consistently did for so many years. From 2013 to 2015, he put together the best stretch of his professional career as he managed to produce more as the years caught up to him. From 2013 through 2015, Morales had 25 goals and 34 assists.
In the locker room, Morales helped bridge the gap between RSL's Latino contingent and the other cultures off the field, becoming a longstanding voice for the franchise.
Never one to shy away from telling it the way he saw it, Morales spoke bluntly in late September about his age and the way media and fans in MLS view his effectiveness at this point in his career.
"It's tough for me in this part of my career, you know, I can read or see people saying, 'He's 36 years old, he needs to rest and he needs to do that and he can't play three games in a week,' " Morales said. "It's tough for me, because not every person is the same, and I know how hard I work every single day to be ready.
"I'm 36. I know that. I train, I live for this because I love what I do. I think and I feel ready to play. I don't mind. I can play every single game."
After meeting with the RSL front office in Wednesday's exit meetings, Morales chose not to address the media, a rare move. Instead, he took the walk out of the long tunnel beneath Rio Tinto Stadium and into the unknown for the first time in 10 years.
His final message, he wrote Thursday, wouldn't be a goodbye. He'd be cheering on RSL the franchise he helped raise from doldrums from afar.
"You will always be in my heart," he wrote before signing off: Javi Morales #11.
The Javier Morales file
Age » 36
Position » Attacking midfielder
Hometown » Lomas de Zamora, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Pro career » Real Salt Lake (2007-2016), UD Vecindario (Spain, second division, 2006-2007), Instituto (Argentina, 2006), Arsenal de Sarandi (Argentina, 2004-2005), Newell's Old Boys (Argentina, 2004), Lanus (Argentina, 2003), Arsenal de Sarandi (Argentina, 2000-2003), Lanus (Argentina, 1998-2000).
Games played » 240, with 217 starts and 19,255 minutes logged.
Stats » 49 goals and 81 assists with RSL in 240 regular-season games.