SANDY — There was no celebrating for Real Salt Lake on Saturday afternoon.
Even though it beat Chivas USA 1-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium, it lost midfielder Javier Morales to a fractured left ankle, a devastating blow for a team with championship aspirations.
"Days like this wins and losses don't really seem relevant," said midfielder Will Johnson, whose 87th minute goal secured the victory.
Morales was wheeled off the field on a stretcher late in the first half after a clumsy red-card challenge from Marcos Mondaini. RSL team doctor Andrew Cooper will perform surgery on Monday and said Morales will be out a minimum of four months.
Morales suffered a fractured tibia and fibula, a dislocated ankle and some torn ligaments.
The foul from behind came just outside the top of the box with Morales getting ready to take a shot. Morales immediately clutched his left ankle, and his teammates couldn't believe what they saw.
"It looked like his shoe fell off, but his shoe was still on. His ankle was somewhere else," said Kyle Beckerman, who said he wanted to "choke-slam" somebody after the incident.
Mondaini was shown a straight red, the second of the half for Chivas USA after defender Andrew Boyens picked up two yellow cards in the first 24 minutes.
As difficult as the injury was to deal with, RSL coach Jason Kreis doesn't believe it was malicious.
"To be honest from what I saw I didn't think it was the most flagrant fouls. It was from behind, which we're trying to stamp that out of our game. It's in the attacking third, and Javy is clearly getting ready to shoot, so I understand the urgency of the situation from a defender trying to make a play but I really don't think it was that egregious," said Kreis.
The second red card definitely changed the dynamic of the match as Chivas was forced to play the second half with just nine men.
In hindsight that was probably a bad thing for Real Salt Lake, which was already in a scoring rut with back-to-back shutout losses.
Chivas dropped all but one player behind the ball in the second half and defended like crazy in hopes of escaping with the scoreless draw to keep its five-game unbeaten streak alive.
It came agonizingly close as well.
"In the second half we came out and defended as hard as we could, we're down two men against the best team in the league," said Chivas coach Robin Fraser.
With Chivas bunkered in Kreis said his team had no choice but to knock it wide and try and deliver crosses into the box, which isn't RSL's strength.
Real Salt Lake was finally able to break down the Goats' defense in the 87th minute as Collen Warner sent a dangerous ball into the box from the left edge of the penalty area. Nat Borchers got a slight touch on the ball near the top of the six, but Johnson was there to bang it home just inside the far post before Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy could corral it.
RSL outshot Chivas 10-0 in the second half, but in keeping up with recent trends it waited until the dying minutes to find the back of the net. RSL outshot Chivas 17-3 for the game.
"I thought the three points were big cause it puts us back in the right direction. We know it wasn't good enough, no where near good enough with the quality we have on this team," said Johnson. "Sometimes you don't play well and you've got to find ways to win games and that's the reality of playing in this league. We'd love to play perfectly every game and never miss a pass and win 5-0, but it doesn't happen like that."
Like his teammates, Johnson was very distraught after the match after seeing his friend and teammate suffer so much.
Mondaini was apologetic for the incident as well after the match.
"I want to tell Morales I wish that he recovers promptly. I never had an intention of hurting the player and I hope he's playing on the field soon," he said through a translator.
RSL would love to see him back soon, but it probably won't be until October at the earliest, and perhaps not until 2012.