Real Salt Lake Captain Kyle Beckerman realized a match against Manchester United was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He admitted the mentality changed once the whistle blew. It went from just enjoying the spectacle to true competitiveness. Though RSL fell to the Red Devils 2-1 on Monday night, the club, the stadium and the league put on a show that impressed United.
“I think the quality is better,” Manager Jose Mourinho said of MLS’s style of play. “I like to play in soccer stadiums. I know you have absolutely amazing stadiums that sometimes you adapt them for football. But I like the concept of the soccer stadium - even if it’s smaller. I like the fans, I like the enthusiasm around, and the quality is improving all the time.”
Monday’s meeting before a standing-room-only crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium was just the third time a European club has journeyed into the Fortress. Inter Milan beat RSL 2-1 last year and Everton played the MLS All Stars in 2009. But United’s profile is the largest to ever venture to Sandy.
With a league match to play against Portland Timbers on Wednesday, Head Coach Mike Petke rotated his squad through in 30-minute increments. This offered an opportunity for a debut and playing time for members of Real Monarchs.
“I said it, I don’t know how loud I said it for the last week, but I think this game was very important for this organization, for the city, for MLS, for MLS supporters. It is just terrible timing,” Petke explained. “Two days before a big game and not to say that if this game had taken place a week and half ago during our break I still would have gotten these Monarchs players up because they have obviously earned it. I have a very big spot in my heart for that team because I was there. But how close I am with [Monarchs Head Coach] Mark [Briggs] and seeing what he has done since I left and having that connection. These guys deserve that shot.”
Captain Nick Besler, Andrew Brody, Kyle Curinga, Chase Minter, and Daniel Haber all saw the field. They paired with RSL stalwarts and youngsters like veteran Chris Wingert and diminutive playmaker Jose Hernandez. Additionally, RSL’s newest signing Marcelo Silva earned his debut. The Uruguayan partnered with Aaron Maund followed by Chris Schuler in his 60 minutes.
Even with the mixing and matching, the level didn’t drop off for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Petke’s side battled against a European power. The scoreline wasn’t what he wanted, but the process was exactly what this club needed.
“You play against a team like Man United who is physically more physically dominant over you, they are technical dominant over you, and there is no shame in saying that, so how do you in altitude try to take advantage of them?” Petke said. “One and two touch, side to side, getting them moving and hit them explosively on the counter and I think those are things we did incredibly well tonight.”