Real Salt Lake put together a strong team performance on the back of good individual play to put away the Montreal Impact 3-1 on Wednesday. As part of it, Javier Morales turned in another All-Star-worthy showing (despite his omission from next week's showcase against Bayern Munich), to headline MLS Week 20's best outings.
Morales assisted both of RSL’s second-half goals by Olmes García, which closed out a 3-1 win at Rio Tinto Stadium. He also created three other chances, giving him five for the match and 62 on the season. That’s 10 more than Federico Higuaín in second place.
Morales nearly scored a goal of his own in the 61st minute with a well-timed run to the top of the six-yard box as the ball moved up the left flank, but Evan Bush saved well after Chris Wingert’s cross was just behind Morales. The time it took for the Argentine to reach back with his left foot and set up the toe-poke with his right was just enough for Bush to find his positioning and make the stop.
Despite lacking a goal, it was Morales’ passing ability that made him the best on the field. His assist on the third goal was a piece of technical brilliance, dinking the ball with the outside of his right foot over the outstretched foot of a defender who unbalanced his team by deciding to pressure the ball. Morales waited patiently for the opening, then played the ball gently enough into García’s path that he could settle it and look up before calmly slotting the finish inside the far post.
It’s this type of subtlety and cerebral vision that makes Morales one of the best playmakers in the league. He’s not as obviously flashy as a No. 10 like Higuaín, who also scores spectacular goals, or a box-to-box player like Benny Feilhaber, who mixes in a physicality that makes him easier to pick out of a crowd.
Still, the 34-year-old native of Buenos Aires earns every penny of his Designated Player contract, but in a way that perfectly personifies the RSL motto instilled by former coach Jason Kreis: “The team is the star.”
Morales headlines this week’s MLS Best XI:
Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 20
• Steve Clark (Columbus Crew): Important saves for Clark included an early tip over the bar from Teal Bunbury and a 1-on-1 foot save on Kelyn Rowe in a close road win over New England. Particularly away from home, a goalkeeper will likely have to play well for his team to have a chance, and Clark was as responsible for the final result as any other Crew player.
• Drew Moor (Colorado Rapids): Moor scored the second goal on a corner kick and hit the bar with a similar header off a set piece in Colorado’s 3-0 win over Chivas USA. The captain continues to organize a group of young players in front of him effectively.
• Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake): Besides winning all of his aerial duels and making some important defensive interventions, Borchers jumpstarted RSL’s attack with 91 percent passing accuracy. His positioning was also excellent against Montreal, keeping Nick Rimando fairly untroubled in goal.
• Aurélien Collin (Sporting Kansas City): Against a direct Toronto FC team, Collin won 12 aerial duels, three times as many as anybody else on his team and the most in the match. When Matt Besler was sent off, Collin’s role in anchoring the back line was magnified, and he came through.
• Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids): Serna hit the post with a curling shot just two minutes into Colorado’s demolishing of Chivas USA, setting the tone for what was to come. He recorded an assist on the first goal and created a good late chance for Dillon Powers with a cross on the ground inside the penalty area.
• Dominic Oduro (Toronto FC): Toronto’s best attacker, Oduro created four chances, including his assist to Jackson in the 16th minute and the same teammate’s sitter in front of an open goal that he missed later in the game. Oduro also completed five of his six attempted dribbles, having his way with the left side of Kansas City’s back line and drawing both of Matt Besler’s yellow cards.
• Pedro Morales (Vancouver Whitecaps): Morales continued his strong play in central midfield, much in the same fashion as his namesake at RSL. He created five scoring chances in a 2-2 draw with FC Dallas, also slotting home the tying goal on a penalty.
• Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers): Nagbe successfully completed all but one of his nine 1-on-1 dribbles in a 3-2 comeback win in Montreal, including a run through the Impact defense and the assist to Maxi Urruti on Portland’s first. He also continued his streak as the most-fouled player in the league, suffering six more to give him a season-long total of 66.
• Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake): This week’s best player continued his playmaking streak with five key passes against the Impact and assists on both second-half goals. A definite snub on the MLS All-Star roster.
• Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes): Wondolowski made up for a disappointing match last week by scoring a goal, adding an assist and creating three additional scoring chances in a 5-1 win over Chicago. He combined well with Yannick Djaló as the Earthquakes’ forward pairing in the absence of Steven Lenhart.
• Olmes García (Real Salt Lake): It’s hard to put a player on the Best XI who just played the last 30 minutes of a match, but when García came on against Montreal, it was still 1-1. He was deadly in the penalty area, scoring twice in his appearance off the bench and easily playing the best of RSL’s three forwards who saw the field.