Real Salt Lake put the final touches on preseason preparations on Thursday with a 2-1 win over New York City FC, setting the stage for the season-opening match on March 3 against FC Dallas. With it ended a month-long excursion through Arizona and Florida to ready the team for the grueling 34-game schedule ahead.
After spending the final 12 days in Florida, Head Coach Mike Petke has seen his team progress in the right direction during his first preseason at the helm. Setting out with certain objectives and goals, he saw many of them met or exceeded throughout the process of training camp.
“I’m happy with a lot of things. I’m not happy with everything. But these guys worked hard,” Petke said.
When camp opened on January 22, Petke praised his team’s fitness levels, opening the door at the start of preseason for a focus on tactical play. Integrating new concepts and RSL’s newest signings, the players inched towards March 3 each day, making incremental progress with each training session.
Sometimes that meant fighting through the fatigue that naturally comes with early training sessions, but the team bonded together to keep the attention on improving with each drill and each session.
“We’re hungry. We put the work in every day,” defender Justen Glad said. “That’s what preseason is for, but you can tell when there’s a mentality – if everyone’s tired or the legs are heavy … we still put the work in and everyone showed up every day ready to train.”
In the matches, RSL saw flashes of the team that strung together an 8-3-4 record to finish the 2017 season. Never was that more evident than in the sequence that led to the second goal against NYCFC on Thursday. On the play, Nick Rimando through an outlet to Jefferson Savarino on the right side. He played to Albert Rusnák, who touched it back to him to continue his run. Savarino then played to Luis Silva at the edge of the 18 and he played it from there through to the other side to Joao Plata, who cut inside and curled a shot inside the far post.
“That’s when we’re at our best. The counter attack and movement in the four attacking players,” Rusnák said. “That’s what every coach wants, to score that type of goal.”
The resulting victory and the way RSL went about securing it elevated the team’s confidence going into its first regular season match in just over a week.
“We have our game plan. We know what we want to do and we can execute it on the field. Getting the win, at this point is important. Our first game is in a week so that’s huge for our confidence,” Glad said. “I can’t wait. I know the team can’t wait. We just want to be on that field and show the fans a good 2018.”
Now, with two more new players in tow, Real Salt Lake will return to Utah on Friday and next week will continue its preparations for the next match on the schedule against FC Dallas. The eagerness to get real games was palpable as the players left the field in Orlando for one last time.
“It was a long preseason,” Petke said. “There was a lot of travel and these guys are tired so it’s going to be good to get back to Salt Lake, unwind for two days with their families and then get back at it leading up to Dallas.”