After a travel day on Monday, Real Salt Lake was back on the practice field on Tuesday in Orlando kicking off the final stage of preseason training. In the humid Florida heat, Head Coach Mike Petke began putting the last pieces of the puzzle together in the session to get his team ready for the start of the 2018 season on March 3 against FC Dallas.
“It went great. There was good competition. They worked hard, got a great sweat and a little extra fitness,” Petke said.
Real Salt Lake will play two matches on the trip – on Saturday against Orlando City, then on February 22 against New York City FC. Within those matches, Petke will extend his projected starters closer to 90 minutes while also working on the tactical shifts and objectives put in place this preseason. While those games will serve as benchmarks for the progress being made, Petke and his staff have been seeing improvements each day in practice.
“The things that we’ve been working on, we need to continue to see them in the game and continue to see improvement every day. And we have,” he said. “Today was the first day off the plane, so it was about competing with some attacking objectives. And they came through for the first day. Tomorrow, we need to see improvements. The next day, we need to see them putting in the things that we’re talking about every day. Then the games against Orlando and New York City will tell a lot.”
The roster continues to grow throughout preseason, too, giving Petke more choices to make for the opening day starting 11. Competition has been thick throughout preseason and will only get more intense in coming weeks. On Sunday in Herriman, winger Jefferson Savarino returned after missing the Arizona trip while recovering from an operation to remove his appendix. Goalkeeper Alex Horwath also participated in his first session on Sunday. Meanwhile, rookies Corey Baird, Aaron Herrera and Ricky Lopez-Espin were away at the MLS Rookie Symposium and rejoined the team in Orlando on Monday. In addition, midfielders Pablo Ruiz and Damir Kreilach will join the team in training in Florida, pending their physicals and visas.
Each player adds to the arsenal at Petke’s disposal.
“It gives us depth. It gives us positions that a number of players can push each other in and it brings quality to the team,” he said. “At the end of the day, the best quality is going to play.”