SANDY, Utah — When Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales looks across the pitch Friday night at Rio Tinto Stadium to face the Portland Timbers (10 pm ET, NBC Sports Network), he may feel a little bit like he is looking into a mirror, because while not exactly the same player, there are many similarities between himself and Portland's attacking midfielder Diego Valeri.
“Both [are] extremely intelligent players. I think both see the game very similarly; maybe a little bit different qualities in the two of them, but effectiveness [is] extremely high for both of them. Two of the best players in the league I think for sure,” said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
The two playmakers for their clubs have similar stats this season, as Morales has scored six goals with nine assists, while Valeri has five goals and 11 assists. They both come from Argentina and both played for the same club, Buenos Aires outfit Lanús, early in their careers. Valeri is just over five years younger than Morales, but both came to the U.S. at about the same age and point in their careers, and both would consider the other his friend.
“We have the same friend, and so we talked between him, but I talked to him after he signed with Portland," said Morales. "We are pretty close. We are not good friends, you know big friends, but we are pretty close.”
Rumors spread that Morales had even helped talk Valeri into coming to America and MLS earlier this year, but he said that wasn't the case.
“No, not before, but after he signed we talked on the phone,” said Morales. “He asked me a lot of questions: How’s the league? How’s the country? A lot of questions for family; I tried to help because I know that he is a great player, but he is a great guy too.”
While RSL know they have their hands full in working to contain Valeri, their coach also appreciates the fact a skilled playmaker like him is playing in the league.
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“I wished he had convinced him to come straight to our team,” joked Kreis, who added that with Valeri's Designated Player contract the team could never have afforded him. “I think it is great. I still think that the level of the average player and the number of very good players we have in our league needs to increase,” said Kreis. “So [I'm] always happy to see good players come regardless of if they are on my team.”
While there are many similarities between the two playmakers, RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said he doesn't think Valeri is all that similar to Morales, and is thrilled to have Morales on his side.
“No, I see Javi. I see Javi the way Javi plays. That’s it. Valeri is a different player,” said Rimando when asked if he thought they were similar. “They are from the same country, but I don’t judge Javi with anybody in this league.”