SANDY — There's a saying plastered on the wall in Real Salt Lake's locker room, "The Team is the Star."
It's a mentality Jason Kreis instilled in his team the moment he took over as head coach in 2007, and his current collection of players whole-heartedly buys into the concept.
There are, however, stars within the team, and RSL lost its brightest star on Saturday.
All-star midfielder Javier Morales will be out a minimum of four months after fracturing his left tibia and fibula and dislocating his left ankle on a nasty challenge from Chivas USA forward Marcos Mondaini.
"It's tough to lose a guy like that. The team is the star, but he is one of our most talent players. He creates a lot for us, gives us a lot of chances, so we're going to have to have guys step up," said RSL defender Nat Borchers.
There's a chance Morales might be back in time for the final month of the season and the playoffs, but that might be optimistic. A 2012 return could be more realistic considering the severity of his injury.
Morales, who is scheduled to have surgery today, thanked his fans on his Twitter page late Saturday night for all the well wishes and display of support: "Thanks everyone for kind words, you make me stronger. I felt bad but you make me feel much better. I'll try to be back ASAP. THANKS!!!!."
There's never a good time for a star player go down, but the timing couldn't be worse for Real Salt Lake. The team's confidence is still a mess after losing the Champions League final two weeks ago, and then last week Andy Williams' wife Marcia was rushed to the hospital with bleeding in her lungs. Marcia is a leukemia survivor.
"A lot of difficult things happening to us at the moment," said Kreis.
You can bet Kreis is already contemplating how he'll fill Morales' void. When asked about it during Saturday's press conference, he gave the standard company line that RSL is a deep team and other players are capable of stepping up.
A lot of that responsibility is going to fall on second-year player Collen Warner.
The coaching staff is very high on the Colorado native, and believe he has a promising future in MLS. Cracking RSL's consistent five-man midfield rotation has been tough. Without Morales out though, Warner seems like the most logical player to jump into the rotation.
Arturo Alvarez could be an option in the midfield rotation as well, but he's needed at striker more right now with the lingering hamstring injury to Paulo Jr.
As for who starts in Morales' specific attacking midfield role, Williams might be the most qualified, but don't be surprised if Kreis experiments with four or five players at that spot over the next four-plus months.
Only time will tell if Marcos Mondaini's clumsy and reckless challenge on Morales knocks Real Salt Lake from its perch as the best team in MLS.
"It was a very unfortunate play. It wasn't my intention, I was trying to defend the team," said Mondaini after the match. "I'm aware that we're colleagues that we work in this sport that we have families. It was never my intention to injure a colleague. I never go out with that intention. I go out there and play hard."
The MLS disciplinary committee will review the incident this week and determine whether Mondaini will be suspended longer than his automatic one-game red-card suspension.
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