Something is amiss with Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales. Is he getting soft? In American football terms, is he evolving into a receiver who's afraid to go over the middle?
Morales wasn't always afraid to go over the middle. Last year he was a tough, two-way player who did his fair share of the dirty work. This year he's mostly passive, spending more time jabbering with the ref and flopping than tracking back and getting stuck in on the occasional tackle.
What happened to the Morales who was an MLS All-Star snub and an MVP finalist snub from a year ago? Was it all about the contract?
A year ago, Morales finished with six goals and 15 assists, a thankless season in which he didn't receive a single MLS accolade. This year, he's been largely disappointing with one goal and three assists.
He isn't the only disappointing RSL player this year, but when you're the star attacking midfielder, the spotlight shines brightest. On top of that, he's RSL's highest-paid player after signing a three-year contract extension late last season. The investment hasn't yielded great returns.
Perhaps a week off is exactly what Morales needs. The Argentine midfielder is suspended this weekend along with Kyle Beckerman after each picked up their fifth yellow card of the season in last week's loss. Like toddlers, they're being sent to timeout by the league for not playing nice. Their team is even giving them a few extra days off from training this week.
How will Morales handle his weekend in the corner?
Will he rediscover the passion that made him one of the best players in MLS last year, or will he just sit back idly diverting blame elsewhere?
It might be a make-or-break moment for RSL. Without a committed Morales, climbing back into the MLS playoff picture will be tough.
It's a situation that could go either way.
Morales is capable of turning things around as evidenced by his scintillating 2008. Then again, perhaps he's reverting back to the player he was in 2007. He joined RSL in August, injuring his shoulder in a reserve game before his contract was finalized. Always fearful of hurting the shoulder, Morales played timid during his seven appearances with the team before being shut down for the remainder of the season to have surgery.
There were rumblings within the team that a tougher player would've showed more commitment and finished the season.
Those concerns seemed irrelevant when he showed up at training camp in 2008 invigorated and in fantastic shape. Now, however, his desire is again being questioned.