The second stage of Real Salt Lake’s preseason calendar is now complete after eight days in the desert sun of Tucson, Arizona. With two matches now under their belts, RSL returns home to Utah on Thursday one step closer to readiness for the opening day match against FC Dallas on March 3 and Head Coach Mike Petke liked the progress of his club.
“You never feel like you got everything you wanted. Outside of perhaps one session, I thought all the sessions were great. Guys were focused. Guys were understanding what we were trying to do. I thought we accomplished a lot,” Petke said. “It’s been a great progression – stepping stones – and I feel going into Orlando we’re in a good spot to do exactly what we planned for in Orlando instead of having to backtrack and double-cover some things. I like where we’re at right now … we still have a long way to go.”
During the Tucson leg, Real Salt Lake played two matches – first posting a 3-1 win over the LA Galaxy on Saturday before finishing the trip with a 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday. In each match, nobody played more than 45 minutes and Petke utilized the matches to build fitness and get looks at players in different roles and in different combinations. That meant left back Danny Acosta saw some time at center back against LA and wingers Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo switched from their more comfortable sides in the match against San Jose, among others.
All the while the team is making the tactical adjustments to round out the approach in 2018 and building on the chemistry that was so critical in closing out the season strong in 2017.
“We worked all week on defending and not just on defending deep, which is what we don’t want to do, but in the press and the midfield third,” Petke said. “I thought today we controlled the game in the first half for sure and a lot of that came off of our positioning and in the midfield third defending. We got a lot going offensively off of how we defended. They understood what we wanted to accomplish today and stepped up and did it.”
To the players, Orlando marks the final phase in training camp. While in Florida, RSL will play two matches in 12 days and the team hopes to continue building on the progress made in Arizona.
“We feel good. We’ve regained our fitness and now we head to Orlando and I think we’re going to bump up the minutes there,” Lennon said. “We’ve got two games to keep going and keep improving and listening to what Petke wants us to do.”
While in Florida, RSL hopes to be met by newly-acquired midfielders Pablo Ruiz and Damir Kreilach, pending receipt of their visas. The team departs for the Sunshine State on Monday.