SANDY — Javier Morales knows it’s coming.
Sporting Kansas City committed more fouls than any other team in the MLS season, while Morales is the second-most fouled player in the league. Morales said he’s ready to grin and bear it this Saturday, because after all it’s a final.
“That’s the way they play. We have to be ready for that, we have to be ready for a battle first and then we have to play our kind of soccer,” said Morales.
Morales’ confrontations will likely come from all over, but you can bet he’ll have a keen eye fixed on Kansas City holding midfielders Paulo Nagamura and Oriol Rosell. They’re the duo whose primary purpose will be to limit Morales’ space and touches all game, and they’re very good at what they do.
Kansas City surrendered the fewest goals in MLS this season with 30, no doubt a byproduct of its physical style. It committed a league-high 511 fouls this season, a significant amount more than second-place Chivas with 465.
RSL ranked 13th in MLS in fouls committed at 400.
“They have two holding midfielders in the middle, they’re very aggressive. I have to be smart, I know that somebody’s going to tackle me, I know it’s hard from behind, but I have to keep my mind away from that and try and focus only on my game and be smart,” said Morales.
The RSL veteran said sometimes the pain from rash challenges goes away after a minute or two, and sometimes it lingers for days. He’s prepared to take the abuse knowing he has an offseason to look forward to starting next week.
“We know it’s going to be a physical game and you have to be relaxed,” said Morales.
In the only meeting between RSL and Kansas City this season, Morales was fouled six times — a season high.
Jason Kreis was asked if Real Salt Lake has to protect Morales a bit more considering Kansas City’s physical nature, and he basically said why start now.
“We go into the game knowing it’s going to happen, and we are ready to deal with that and move on,” said Kreis. “I would be wasting my breath if I asked for the referees to protect Javier, we’ve done that far too often and we never get the right result. We’ll just control what we can control and that’s how we react to it.”
Morales ranked sixth in fouls suffered in 2012 and ranked second only to Dallas’ David Ferreira in 2010. Morales and Ferreira both went down with horrific ankle fractures early in the 2011 season, and Kreis was extremely adamant afterward that the league needed to crack down on such blatant rough play.
The tackles seem to be as physical as ever in 2013, but Morales has certainly become skilled at anticipating contact to minimize the pain of each foul.