When Dr. Andrew Cooper walked out on the field Saturday afternoon and first saw Javier Morales' mangled left ankle, he said, "It was fairly gruesome to see."
Roughly 48 hours later, however, Cooper said Real Salt Lake's star midfielder has a "perfect potential" at recovery.
Cooper surgically repaired Morales' ankle during a two-hour procedure at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center on Monday, and said there were no surprises or complications.
He reiterated that October is the earliest Morales could be back playing soccer but also pointed out Morales is a quick healer.
"He's very quick at being able to recover, and looking back on his knee and shoulder injuries he's always come back at very high levels, come back very quickly," said Cooper, who performed both of those previous surgeries as well.
As "horrific" as Morales' injury was, Cooper said it's fairly common. He's performed this type of surgery hundreds of times in the past 10 years, but Morales' injury was unique because it happened on television and in front of nearly 15,000 fans. Typically these injuries occur in mountain biking accidents, or people falling off roofs or tripping on curbs.
RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey said he's encouraged by the positive outcome of the surgery.
"The timetable is such that we might get Javy back this season if his rehab goes to plan; that's very encouraging. That's the most important thing to come out of this, that Javy will make a full recovery," said Lagerwey.
Cooper said there were three elements to the surgery: repairing the fractured fibula with plates and screws, re-reducing high ankle ligament — which holds the tibia and fibula together — and then repairing the torn deltoid ligament.
"All those three things are very important for someone at his level to get back playing soccer, so from a technical standpoint moving into the surgery there were no surprises; it was exactly what I expect to see," said Cooper.
Morales' ankle was also dislocated, but Cooper said he stabilized that on the field.
"We reduced that on the field and we were able to splint him to stabilize it. It's a very unstable injury and that took us a little while to get him stable on the field before we could put him on the stretcher," said Cooper.
There are several phases to the recovery process for Morales.
Due to the complexity of the ligament injuries, he won't be allowed to put any weight on the injury for six weeks. Between six weeks and three months, Morales will gradually put weight on his left foot and start developing a normal range of motion while still being protected by a boot or a brace.
After three months, Cooper said from a biology standpoint things are healed up.
"From three to four to four-and-a-half months is when we work on the functional return, and that's the hardest part to predict," said Cooper.
During that time, Morales will begin jogging, then sprinting and then moving side to side. How his body responds will determine whether he's back on the field for the final few weeks of the regular season and then the MLS playoffs, or if 2012 becomes a more realistic timetable.
"We'd all love to see Javy back out there and we're going to give him the best chance," said Cooper, who said the training staff will be aggressive with the recovery because the ankle was surgically stabilized.
In the meantime, Lagerwey said every Real Salt Lake midfielder on the team will have to step up — particularly when Will Johnson is away with the Canadian National Team this summer participating in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.7 comments on this story
In the long run Lagerwey said Morales' injury will strengthen RSL.
"We should emerge from this injury as a better team," said Lagerwey. "We played without Kyle Beckerman last year for two months and I think it made us a better team; it forced guys to step up and play those positions."