Kreis: With Morales hurt, Gil gone, others must step up

Javier Morales smiles on RSL jersey

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SANDY, Utah ­– When Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales returned from Argentina in January, he expected a big year because he was finally healthy.

Now those plans are on hold again after Morales underwent surgery on Monday to repair a lateral meniscal tear in his right knee he suffered last month in a scrimmage against the Danish U-20 national team in Arizona. It’s certainly a blow to a club that was so thrilled to re-sign its playmaker and had been counting on him to help lead their attack in the middle.

"It is very, very disappointing," RSL coach Jason Kreis told MLSsoccer.com by telephone on Wednesday from training camp in Irvine, Calif. "He had looked extremely fit and extremely motivated, and was really looking good.“

Coming into camp, Morales admitted that it wasn’t until the end of last season he truly felt 100 percent recovered from the gruesome ankle dislocation he suffered in May of 2011, and that he was only now returning to top form without worrying about his health.

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The Argentine veteran, who signed a new deal with the team last month, is expected to be able to return to “doing soccer-specific stuff in about four to six weeks,” according to the Salt Lake City orthopedist who performed the procedure.

"Luckily, it was a very minor surgery,” said Kreis. “I had the same procedure done on my knees a couple of times and it is pretty simple to return from it as long as he is motivated and will put in the work, which I'm sure he will."

The injury also comes at a doubly inopportune time for RSL because Luis Gil will be missing significant time as well. The talented 19-year-old – who has often stepped in to play in the attacking midfield when Morales has been out – leaves Thursday to join up with the US Under-20 national team in Mexico as they prepare for CONCACAF’s U-20 World Cup qualification later this month.

"What that means is that we are going to have to have some players step up," said Kreis. "We will need someone like Sebastian Velasquez, or maybe we move Ned Grabavoy into that role. He has a done a good job playing there for us before. But really it just means we need someone to elevate their game until we can get Javi back."