Ever since the final whistle blew on Real Salt Lake’s playoff run in a defeat to Sporting Kansas City on November 11, RSL Head Coach Mike Petke has been eyeing the start of the 2019 season. In those 72 days, he spent some time away with family, worked closely with his assistant coaches and took U.S. Soccer coaching courses.
On Monday, the long wait was over and RSL returned to the indoor facility at Zions Bank Real Academy for the start of training camp and while few soccer balls were kicked – the team underwent stringent fitness testing – the feeling of urgency to get back to action was eminent throughout the day.
“I’ve been waiting for this day since the last game in Kansas City and that’s the truth,” Petke told the surrounding media at the first day of camp. “My wife is sick of me. My kids are somewhat sick of me. I was dying to get back here. It felt good and I look forward to getting to LA tomorrow.”
RSL’s success last season in returning to the postseason and making a run to the Western Conference Semifinals not only raised expectations for 2019, but also the sense of earnestness to get back on the field.
“Some changes happening and I’m just really excited about what’s going on here. I’m looking forward to this season. We were really close last year to getting to that final,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “We have a lot in the tank right now and some of the guys got a little taste of what it’s like to go further in the playoffs. So I’m excited and raring to go.”
Added midfielder Damir Kreilach, “We charged the battery. Now we are ready and we are very excited for new challenges in a new year. It was fun to be home and be with family. Now it’s time to work.”
After the brief day of fitness testing, Petke reminded everyone in the media scrum that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” With several new faces dotting the roster, the team will have plenty of time to get acclimated to their new teammates. Monday was just about getting back into the building, getting reacquainted and hitting the ground running … literally, as the day ended with a six-minute run for speed.
“We have 40 days from today until our season opener. Today was just setting the groundwork, a little bit of expectations and just welcoming them back,” Petke said. “We need to see, on a daily basis starting tomorrow, that we’re ready to take the next step. Since I’ve been here, we’ve raised the bar a little bit each year. I’m somebody – along with a lot of the players - that loves pressure, loves expectations. Especially the ones I put on myself. We need to see that players are embracing that and we can take it a step further.”
Real Salt Lake heads to California for the first leg of preseason on Tuesday, with training scheduled until Saturday at UCLA, where Rimando and defenders Tony Beltran and Erik Holt played their collegiate soccer. Stay tuned to RSL.com for updates throughout camp as Real Salt Lake readies for the 2019 season.