SANDY — Collen Warner was presented with a great opportunity on Saturday night.
In Real Salt Lake's first game without injured all-star Javier Morales, coach Jason Kreis gave the starting nod to his promising second-year player out of Portland University.
The reviews afterward were mixed at best.
While his teammates praised him for stepping into a difficult situation and playing well in the 60 minutes before being replaced, his coach was a little more critical.
"He didn't put the flag in the ground and say this position is mine, that's for sure," said Kreis.
Warner was presented with a similar opportunity two weeks ago in Portland as an outside midfielder, but he was replaced at the half following a sub-par outing.
Even though Warner failed to put his stamp on the game the past two weeks, Kreis hasn't lost faith in RSL's 2010 first-round draft pick.
"We're not walking out of here saying the job's his and we're not walking out of here saying the job isn't his," said Kreis.
Saturday's discouraging 0-0 draw against Houston reiterated what the players said all week, no one player is going to fill Morales' shoes.
"Few players in this league can do what Javier does so it has to be a collective group effort in there," said Ned Grabavoy.
That collective effort wasn't good enough against the Dynamo.
"We're going to have to answer some questions about who's going to be the integral figure in there to create chances and can other guys get a little more involved and be precise in the attacking third, and some of that's just going to take time," said Kreis.
Time is actually one thing Real Salt Lake can spare.
Thanks to its hot start in March and April, and then a lot of parity throughout the Western Conference, RSL only trails Los Angeles by four points despite playing five fewer games.
If the defense continues to grind out results while the attack adjusts to life without Morales, Salt Lake should be just fine despite its recent troubles.
A lot of that responsibility will fall on Warner to acclimate quickly.
"Not being a first team regular it's a little different when you get out there. The movements aren't the same," said Warner.
Overall, Warner thought he played OK against Houston, but admitted most of the team's passes went astray in the crucial moments.
He's moving ahead confidently though knowing the coaching staff trusts him.
"They've always believed in me as a player, it gives you an extra bit of confidence to know that even though as a young player they're willing to throw you out there in games that really matter," said Warner.
Following his average performance against Houston though, Warner will need to show improvement over the coming weeks if he wants more starting opportunities.
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