This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Portland, Ore. • There's no longer that signature deft touch in morning training sessions. No longer that familiar grin after beating a teammate, and rubbing it in just for the fun of it. As the primary conduit of Real Salt Lake's attack for a decade, Javier Morales produced regularly when the lights came on.
Yet the oddity of his absence remains prevalent, at least for now. Morales and RSL split last fall. The 37-year-old is now with FC Dallas, while RSL has entered its first preseason since 2007 without the man best known throughout the league as "The Maestro." And as right back Tony Beltran said, the challenge of replacing Morales will be a huge endeavor this preseason and beyond.
"We can't shy away from that," Beltran said. "Javier is Nick [Rimando], he is Kyle [Beckerman], he is Real Salt Lake. That's who they are. It's tough because Javier has done so much for this club and given everything he has to try and win with this club, for his teammates, for fans in the stands, for his family, but again it's the tough side of soccer."
"From a soccer standpoint, everything since I've been here has always gone through Javier," Beltran continued. "I know he didn't like the term 'Maestro', but he really was that because everything flowed through him and we depended on him for so many years in so many ways. When Javier was playing well and things were going through him, that's when Salt Lake was really good."
RSL's new No. 10, Albert Rusnák, arrived in Tucson, Ariz., less than two weeks ago. The preseason, coaches and teammates say, is a crucial stretch for the 22-year-old Slovakian Designated Player to get used to the intricacies of Major League Soccer.
Forward Yura Movsisyan said he has high hopes for Rusnák as well as Luis Silva, who returned to RSL after a year in Mexico with Tigres.
"Let them make a name for themselves," Movsisyan said. "Give everybody else a chance. Why not Rusnák? Why not Luis? Let them become the new Javis of this club, the new players people are going to love."
The dynamic at RSL without Morales already has changed, Movsisyan said.
"And trust me, whatever was good five years ago, six years ago, seven years ago, cannot be good now," Movsisyan said. "You cannot live off of what you've done before. You always have to prove it. The game evolves, everything evolves and life evolves. Everything changes. I think Javi had his time, he had his glory days and he's been a big part of this club and everybody respects him for what he's done, but I think this gives an opportunity to other guys to step up and be leaders, to step up and be the link."
RSL lost known quantities such as Morales, Burrito Martinez and veteran defender Jamison Olave this offseason. But it also gained what it set out to: More youth, athleticism, speed and versatility. A total of 11 new players join the RSL first-team roster in 2017. That will allow RSL to change the way it's played in its 4-3-3 formation the last two seasons.
"We have more legs to run," Movsisyan said. "We'll be more of a dynamic team, we'll be faster, definitely. As we're playing now, the style we're starting to play, I think it'll be very beneficial to the players and personalities that we have. Win [the ball] higher up, score higher up. Get closer to goal. That's what we're doing."
RSL coach Jeff Cassar said implementing tweaks to a new way the club wants to play started in the first phase of their preseason in Arizona and continued this week in Portland.
"I think it's going to allow us to play the way we want to, but for longer," he said.