SANDY — Four months and 21 days since snapping his ankle, Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales will be back on the field at Rio Tinto Stadium tonight.
He won't start against visiting Chicago, but all indications are he'll enter the game as a substitute sometime in the second half regardless of the score.
"We'll be looking to get him involved at some point. We think it's a necessity to get him going again such that he can figure for us down the stretch and into the playoffs," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
Morales has been training without restrictions for the past few weeks, and everyone agrees he's ready to make his long-awaited return with five games remaining in the regular season.
"He goes into tackles, he gets tackled and he moves on. I think he's ready," said Kreis.
Morales believes he's fit enough to play between 20 and 30 minutes, but admits he'd be happy with just five minutes if that's what the situation dictates.
"I'm excited. I've been waiting for this moment for a long time," said Morales.
Morales has been sidelined since breaking his left ankle on a reckless challenge from Chivas USA's Marcos Mondaini on May 7. Many feared the devastating injury was season-ending, but Morales was committed to returning to the field in 2011 — not 2012.
In the 24 games RSL has played without Morales, it amassed a very respectable 10-7-6 (15-8-5, 51 points overall) record. There were definitely some ups and downs along the way, and despite a 4-1 loss at D.C. United last weekend, most agree the team is trending in the right direction with the playoffs just around the corner.
The loss at D.C. United snapped a five-game winning streak, which came on the heels of a stretch in which RSL lost four of five. Throughout both stretches, the players tried to keep a level head.
"When we lost four out of five, we didn't think we were that bad, and when we won five in a row, we didn't think we were that great. It's kind of just trying to keep an even keel," said Beckerman.
Chicago presents a very interesting midweek match for a Real Salt Lake team that can't afford to look ahead to this Saturday's massive match at the L.A. Galaxy. The Fire have won four of their last five, including back-to-back victories over Chivas USA and New England. Even though all four victories during the stretch came at home, and the lone loss came on the road, the Fire (6-8-15, 33 points) are no doubt feeling some confidence for the first time this season.
"They have a real fighting spirit now. They're a team with some fantastic speed and ability in the attacking half of the field," said Kreis. "It should be a really interesting matchup tonight because I think it's your prototypical possession team that wants to establish a tempo and a rhythm against your prototypical counter-attack team with speed in behind. So it's going to be a great, great challenge for us."
Even though his team trails the L.A. Galaxy by 10 points in the standings, Kreis believes the Supporter's Shield is still within grasp. If RSL beats Chicago tonight and then beats L.A. on Saturday, it would whittle the deficit to four points with three games remaining.
"I still think looking at the points standings and the math, the Supporter's Shield is still there for us, and I'm willing and ready and able to fight for it," said Kreis.
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