On Saturday, Real Salt Lake suffered its first defeat in a home opener in club history, taking a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of LAFC.
After the match, defender Demar Phillips called the defeat a wake-up call. Head Coach Mike Petke apologized to the 20,706 fans in attendance and thousands more watching at home, as well as owner Dell Loy Hansen. And midfielder Albert Rusnák deemed the loss unacceptable.
While the team got back out on the training field on Monday after a lengthy video session to dissect the wrongs and rights of the match, the focus has been clear that a loss of that ilk cannot happen again.
RSL has a chance to get back on the horse on Saturday, hosting the New York Red Bulls and here are five reasons to turn up, tune in, have faith and believe.
1. Response – The last time RSL suffered a home loss, a 1-0 defeat to Orlando City SC on June 30, 2017, the club responded by outscoring the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers 10-3 in two road matches. An additional strong showing in a friendly against Manchester United in between was a sign of things to come as Salt Lake became one of the hottest teams in MLS after that point in the season. Since then, RSL had gone unbeaten in the previous eight home matches, winning five straight before Saturday’s loss. When Petke refers to the performance as an anomaly, it isn’t just lip service. And his ability to motivate teams during times of struggle was evident last year. In addition, this club loves its fans and when they turn up in droves, as they did in the opener, it isn’t lost on the team. The players want to make it right for those fans as much as each other.
2. Redemption – Saturday will be Petke’s first chance to square off with his former club in the New York Red Bulls. In two seasons at the helm of the club he played with for seven of his 13 years as a professional before moving into the coaching ranks, he won the Supporters’ Shield and reached the Eastern Conference Final. He was not asked to return, though, and was out of the coaching world until he was hired as coach of the USL’s Real Monarchs last year, moving into RSL’s coach’s chair in April. He undoubtedly will hold a little extra motivation this week.
3. Returns – Not many players log 10 years with one club. Real Salt Lake has been lucky enough to have five players do that in the 13 year club history. Three are still wearing the RSL crest – Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Tony Beltran. A fourth was honored last year in Javier Morales’ first match as a visitor to Rio Tinto Stadium. Now, after Chris Wingert announced his retirement three weeks ago, he will be recognized and honored in a ceremony before RSL’s match with the Red Bulls on Saturday. Wingert played 247 MLS regular season matches for RSL, winning MLS Cup in 2009 and reaching the finals in the 2013 MLS Cup, 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League. His time with the club saw great success on the field and constant involvement in the community – as he won the club’s Humanitarian of the Year award in 2013.
4. Rewards – In Real Salt Lake’s last 12 matches, dating back to last season, the team has been shutout just once. With Joao Plata scoring in each of the club’s first two matches this season, we find a motivated player who is getting hungrier in the attack. The last time he opened the season with goals in the first two matches, he finished with 13 goals and six assists in 2014. The fact of the matter is, this is an exciting team that scores goals. Home or away. Against any type of opponent.
5. R-E-L-A-X – Despite the magnitude of the loss, Real Salt Lake is still unbeaten in 13 of the last 17 matches. That doesn’t happen by accident or fluke. And while none of the above guarantees victory against the Red Bulls, there is no doubt that everyone in attendance will be entertained and given an effort that they can be proud to support.