SANDY, Utah — When Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales departed for Argentina as a free agent at the end of the 2012 MLS season, nobody in Salt Lake City was certain he would be coming back.
But after a couple months of nail-biting, the playmaker returned to Utah and put pen to paper on a new deal. And while it wasn't a certainty he would be back, RSL had a couple of things working in their favor.
First and foremost, Utah had become "home" for the Morales family.
"I talked with my family a lot and I think I found my place," Morales told reporters this past weekend. "Now, Utah is my place. I'm very happy here, my family, too, my son, so I want to play for Real Salt Lake.”
The second factor, perhaps even more important than the first, is coach Jason Kreis.
"Jason is a huge person for me," Morales said. "He is a good person, and we talked before I went to Argentina. I gave him my word that I would try to give my best to coming back. One of the big reasons I'm here is because of him."
As happy as Morales is to be coming back to the club, Real may be beaming even a little more.
"Javier we view as a very central figure in everything we do with our club," said Kreis. "He is a linking guy for us in the locker room. He is obviously the playmaker on the field. He is extremely important for us.
“We had a lot of anxiety about whether or not we were going to be able to get him back. Now that he's back, we're extremely happy about that situation."
With his return, both the club and the player feel there is room for improvement upon his 2012 season, during which he had three goals and nine assists. Morales is optimistic he still has plenty left after working his way back from a 2011 injury that threatened to end his career.
"Last year, at the beginning of the year, I wanted to be healthy because I was coming from a huge injury. … but now I'm ready," he said. "After last year, I'm healthy and I hope I can be the same player as before [the injury]. Last year was tough for me because I'd never had an injury like I had in 2011.
“After six months, I was playing so I said, 'OK, I'm ready.' But it's not that easy. You know you have to work a lot with your body. I had a lot of injuries in my muscles and those kind of injuries. It's hard because you can train every day, play every game, but now is going to be different."
Kreis agreed that Morales probably wasn't 100 percent in 2012, giving the Argentine a bit of a chip on his shoulder as he pledges his future to RSL.
"In my estimation, again, [he's] a player that has not lived up to other people's expectations of him over the last year and a half," said Kreis. "He comes back with something to prove, a very very hungry player."