SANDY — Major League Soccer has a problem.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales left Saturday's game with a fractured left ankle on a nasty foul from behind by Marcos Mondaini. The Chivas USA forward was shown a straight red card, but the damage had already been done.
The injury to Morales isn't an isolated incident either. In fact, Morales is the third notable MLS player this season to suffer a broken leg. It's quickly becoming a huge black eye on the league.
Last month, Colorado midfielder Brian Mullan snapped the leg of Seattle rising star Steve Zakuani on a nasty challenge that landed him a 10-game suspension from the league. A week later, reigning MLS MVP David Ferriera broke his ankle in two spots on a take down from behind by Vancouver defender Jonny Leathers.
Morales was the latest star to crumple.
"It's not only bad for us, it's bad for the league that he's not going to be play. My heart goes out to him," said RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman.
The league is in a tough spot about what to do with Mondaini. While Mullen was suspended for 10 games, Leathers wasn't suspended at all.
Where does Mondaini's challenge fall in that scale?
"I don't think he went in there meaning to break Javy's ankle, he did mean to foul him. Obviously this is something the league is going to have to look at and decide what they want to do," said RSL defender Nat Borchers. "It's not really for me to say. I do think the league is going to have to crack down on these things, and I do think they've done a good job so far."
RSL coach Jason Kreis said he didn't think it was an egregious tackle by Mondaini.
Chivas coach Robin Fraser agreed.
"It was a clumsy challenge — it certainly wasn't malicious," said Fraser. "We were saying on the sideline we think that might be Marcos' first foul all year, he's just not even that type of player. It was probably more like a forward being stuck in the midfield having to make tackles and it was a clumsy challenge."
In fairness, it wasn't Mondaini's first foul. He came into the game having committed eight fouls and picking up one yellow card in seven starts.
Regardless of the suspension, Real Salt Lake will have a tough time coping without its best player for what could be the entire 2011 season.
"There's not much you can say. Nothing is going to put his leg back together. He's done so much for this team. He's been the heart and soul for three or four years. He's been the best player in this league, and I'm just going to miss having him at training every day and getting to watch him do things that most people can only dream about doing," said midfielder Will Johnson.
X-rays revealed that Morales fractured his left tibia and fibula, dislocated his ankle and suffered torn ligaments as well. He'll have surgery at the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center on Monday.
Beckerman is confident the league will punish Mondaini appropriately.
"I think the league has been handling it good, they've been on top of it. Before the season started guys knew bad tackles weren't going to be accepted, so I'm sure they'll come down hard on this guy," Beckerman concluded.