SANDY — One-hundred and forty three days after leaving Rio Tinto Stadium on a stretcher to a sympathetic standing ovation, Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales was welcomed back with a thunderous standing ovation on Wednesday night.
"Unbelievable. That was one of the best feelings in my career," said Morales.
The circumstances weren't ideal for Morales with RSL trailing Chicago 2-0 and down a man when he entered in the 61st minute, but it was a necessity.
If RSL wants to be a legitimate MLS Cup contender in November, it needs Morales contributing. Wednesday's 30-minute appearance was basically the first of five preseason games for Morales, and afterward he said he felt great.
"I have four more games, so I try to give my best and thinking to the playoffs," he said.
Prior to the match Morales said he wasn't worried about getting fouled our tackled, and that's the way he played. That's very encouraging for RSL as it tries to work Morales back into the fold.
"Very pleased that he got out there, he seemed to make it through OK," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "(He) had some good touches; the crowd's response was fantastic. I think emotionally everyone was really pleased to see him get out there. He looks a little rusty still, but what do we expect.
RSL was a very respectable 10-7-6 in the 23 games it played without Morales, but his return to form for the playoffs is vital.
"He's a big part of this team, and has been for a while. He's a leader on this team, and it will be fun to see him get back and get sharp. Obviously these are kind of like preseason games for him," said Will Johnson. "He moved just like the old Javy, and maybe that's the only positive thing you can take from tonight."
RSL's next opportunity to get re-acclimated with his teammates is this Saturday at Los Angeles.
SEEING RED: Kyle Beckerman's red card in the 11th minute on Wednesday was his first of the season and sixth for Real Salt Lake.
Nat Borchers leads the team with two ejections, while Johnson, Jamison Olave, Tony Beltran and Beckerman each have one.
Those ejections and the resulting suspensions — not to mention the injuries and national team call-ups— are a big part of why RSL's line-ups have lacked continuity most of the season.
"There's a good chance this is a record for red cards this year and suspensions with yellow cards and all the rest of it, and it just makes for a roller coaster," said Johnson. "It's frustrating at times, but you just hope you hit one of those five-game winning streaks come playoff time."
AN ANOMALY: Real Salt Lake's 3-0 loss on Wednesday was its second straight, and comes on the heels of a 4-1 drubbing at D.C. United.
It was just the fifth time in franchise history RSL has conceded seven or more combined goals in back-to-back games, and the first since a 4-3 loss at Houston and a 3-0 loss at Dallas in August of 2008.
RSL's worst back-to-back games of all-time occurred in August of the 2005 expansion year when it lost to New England 4-2 and Kansas City 4-1.