A legend hung up his boots a week ago, and there was barely a murmur in Major League Soccer circles. Javier Morales deserved better.
For me, Morales will always be the point of the diamond, the magic man who helped Real Salt Lake shed their expansion skin and become a powerhouse in this league. I began voraciously consuming the daily MLS news in 2007 – the Beckham effect, I guess – and I distinctly remember when RSL signed Morales, Fabian Espindola and Matias Mantilla that August.
Morales tallied an assist just 40 seconds into his debut, a sign of things to come. A year later, the Buenos Aires native, who’d bounced from club to club before landing in Utah, dropped a six- goal, 15-assist season, signed a four-year extension and it was clear we were watching the beginning of something special.
First came the opening of Rio Tinto Stadium, then the first of seven consecutive playoff appearances, then the MLS Cup triumph, then the run to the Concacaf Champions League final that united the entire league behind RSL in their quest to make history as Morales established himself as one of the league’s best-ever No. 10s.
There were disappointments, too. Humberto Suazo spoiled the CCL party. The club lost both the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup finals in 2013. An acrimonious goodbye unfolded between Morales and RSL that didn’t reflect what either party had meant to each other over the years and, finally, one last season in Dallas that saw Morales join the 50-50 club but fall short of the postseason.
Now, there are fond memories, a lasting legacy and a place among the all-time great Argentines who have carved a place out in the MLS history books, and hearts and minds of the fans who supported them in the stadium or simply admired them from afar.
Today, we see Morales’ legacy carry on through Ignacio Piatti, Mauro Diaz, Luciano Acosta, Kaku, Ezequiel Barco, Tomas Martinez and a few of the names you see below on my list of the top Argentine No. 10s in MLS history.
5. Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew SC, 2012-present)
- 50 G (17 PKs), 51 A in 156 games (151 starts) – 0.34 G/90, 0.35 A/90
- INDIVIDUAL: 2012 Newcomer of the Year
I have a feeling we’ll never properly appreciate Pipa, one of just 19 players to join MLS’s 50-50 club. If you don’t remember his introduction to the league back in 2012 – Higuain tried and succeeded in chipping just about everyone on his way to a half-season Newcomer of the Year nod – go back and watch the footage.
His knack for finding and exploiting the gap between opponent’s back line and midfield and ability to open up the field for his teammates via the half-turn is elite. He scores, he assists, he made Columbus his home and he’d absolutely be remembered differently had Crew SC won MLS Cup in 2015.
4. Christian Gomez (D.C. United, 2004-2007, 2009 | Colorado Rapids, 2008)
- 48 G (6 PKs), 39 A in 144 games (130 starts) – 0.40 G/90, 0.33 A/90
- INDIVIDUAL: 3x Best XI (2005, 2006, 2007), 3x All-Star (2005, 2006, 2007), 2006 MLS MVP
- TEAM: MLS Cup (2004), Supporters’ Shield (2006, 2007)
I know, I know. There’s an argument to be made that Gomez was more of a second striker than No. 10, but he wore the number and I’m not at all interested in getting into the semantics here.
Let’s just all agree that Gomez deserves more respect. I almost never hear anyone throwing it back to the man who was arguably the league’s best player from 2004 to 2007 as D.C. United restocked their trophy case with a Cup and two Shields.
He was an assist in 2005 and 2007 from dropping three straight double-double seasons of goals and assists, and picked up an MVP award and three Best XI nods in three years. The only reason he’s fourth is that the top three are in an echelon all their own.
3. Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake, 2007-2016 | FC Dallas, 2017)
- 50 G (11 PKs), 83 A in 255 games (225 starts) – 0.22 G/90, 0.37 A/90
- INDIVIDUAL: 1x Best XI (2010), 2x All-Star (2009, 2010)
- TEAM: MLS Cup (2009)
Morales spent a decade in Utah, toiling away to help make RSL the club they are today. He’s an undisputed legend of the club, and has 100 more games played than anyone else on this list and by far the most combined goals and assists.
And yet, for whatever reason, Morales never got the individual plaudits to go along with his influence on RSL and the league.
2. Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers, 2013-present)
- 61 G (13 PKs), 55 A in 154 games (148 starts) – 0.43 G/90, 0.39 A/90
- INDIVIDUAL: 2013 Newcomer of the Year, 3x Best XI (2013, 2014, 2017), 3x All-Star (2014, 2016, 2017), 2015 MLS Cup MVP, 2017 MLS MVP
- TEAM: MLS Cup (2015)
Goals, assists, awards, a championship parade and heartfelt connection to the community … Valeri is basically the prototype No. 10 in MLS, and he’s done it for years in Portland despite wavering results, a devastating injury and a rotating cast of teammates.
Valeri has done everything right, and he’s still got more to give after an MVP season in which he put the Timbers on his back and carried them to first place in the Western Conference … but he’s not No. 1 on my list. That title goes to the man who helped inspire Valeri’s MLS move in the first place.
1. Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus Crew SC, 2007-2010)
- 33 G (13 PKs), 41 A in 102 games (96 starts) – 0.36 G/90, 0.45 A/90
- INDIVIDUAL: 2x Best XI (2007, 2008), 4x All-Star (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010), 2008 MLS Cup MVP, 2008 MLS MVP
- TEAM: MLS Cup (2008), Supporters’ Shield (2008, 2009)
Bow down, a la the Nordecke, to the man I consider MLS’s greatest Argentine.
This pick is based both on productivity and personal preference. Schelotto arrived in Columbus a day after his 34th birthday in 2007. What he accomplished with Crew SC and his lasting influence before departing in 2010 is unparalleled. Just check out the statline, the individual awards and the team accomplishments he stockpiled in less than four years.
He was adored, he was dominant and he’s since played a big role in guiding the likes of Valeri and Piatti to MLS. He’s No. 1 in my book, and it’s not even close.