For anyone who thought Real Salt Lake would be taking a leisurely vacation with its preseason trip to Hawaii for the 2019 Pacific Rim Cup, Wednesday’s training session was a splash of cold water to the face. And while it may have been the cool ocean water of Waikiki Beach, it was a strong wakeup call, nonetheless.
Head Coach Mike Petke led his team through a long and rigorous session in the first day of training in Honolulu as RSL continues to build toward the 2019 MLS regular season opener on March 2 against the Houston Dynamo. And while things got spirited in the competitive session, it was just the type of intensity that Petke wanted to see to assure him that the players weren’t taking the goals of preseason lightly despite the tropical locale.
“When I look back on my five years as a head coach, this is one of my favorite days,” Petke said. “I didn’t see it coming. After the long travel, getting to the field that was interesting – to say the least – the guys put it in. We not only reached our objectives, but we were able to add a couple more that we didn’t anticipate. And it was perhaps one of my longest sessions as a coach. But it was a great vibe and a great atmosphere. The guys responded and it was awesome.”
Wednesday’s session marked the first appearances in training camp for two RL forwards –Sam Johnson joined the team just prior to boarding the plane for Honolulu on Tuesday while Corey Baird returned from international duty after making his debut with the U.S. National Team during January camp while posting shutout victories over Panama by a score of 3-0 and Costa Rica by 2-0.
Because he was away with the U.S. on his 23rd birthday on January 30, Baird participated in the RSL ritual of running through a tunnel of teammates splashing water on player’s celebrating birthdays. But with water in limited supply and a long and hot session ahead, Baird’s birthday tunnel featured light-hearted taps to the back of his head as he charged through his teammates with a gleeful grin.
The fun stopped there as the team progressed through various drills designed to break the lines of the opposing defenses through different channels and options and after the grueling session the team returned to the hotel.
In his first training session with the team, Johnson showed his burst and cunning in the attack while Baird picked up right where he left off in winning the 2018 AT&T MLS Rookie of the Year award by deftly making runs through the opposing defenses. The two blended quickly with a rapidly gelling roster as competition for starting spots heats up throughout preseason.
RSL will play two matches in the 2019 Pacific Rim Cup, facing Japan’s Iwaki FC on Friday before the finale on Sunday.