After a hard-fought match on Friday on the turf of Aloha Stadium, Real Salt Lake emerged victorious after a late Nick Besler goal lifted RSL to a 2-1 win in the first match of the 2019 Pacific Rim Cup.
Winning wasn’t the top objective in RSL’s first competitive preseason match after two scrimmages the previous two weekends, but finding the winning mentality and habits was still high on the list for Head Coach Mike Petke.
“Begrudgingly to who I am, it was number three on our objective list tonight – getting a win,” Petke said after the match. “Number one was the defensive side of it. Number two was the build-out, that’s why we forced it a lot in the beginning. On this turf it wasn’t very easy, but it’s preseason and I wanted to force these things. Third objective was let’s get a win. It does feel good. It’s good for these guys to get used to winning and setting a tone. Now Sunday it’s going to tougher and we have to continue hitting these objectives.”
In just the third week of preseason, RSL faced an Iwaki FC side that was just completing its second month of camp for the upcoming season in Japan. Fit, athletic and organized, the Japanese club put RSL under pressure from the opening kickoff and while it made for some nervous moments on the defensive side, Salt Lake withstood the pressure and goalkeeper Andrew Putna came up with some key saves when needed.
RSL eventually got on the board first through a great team effort, concluding with Sebastian Saucedo dicing around a defender and the goalkeeper to put away the first goal midway through the first half.
After Iwaki equalized in the second half, Nick Besler – who slotted into the midfield for the final 15 minutes of the match – notched the game-winner in the 87th minute.
“We got a result. The things we were working on all week, we saw in specific times,” Petke said. “This was a team that has been in preseason for two months and they came out flying. Their pressure made it difficult for us to play early on, but that’s what we need early in preseason. We need those types of games against teams that are more in form and more physically fit that make it more difficult for us to do what we’re trying to do. That’s how we’re going to learn.”
In previous scrimmages, players were limited to 30 and 45 minutes. This week, Petke and his staff extended the team out to 60 minutes, with Pablo Ruiz and Justen Glad going to 75 minutes. With a second game just 48 hours away, he split the lineups and will play a different starting 11 on Sunday when RSL meets V-Varen Nagasaki in the championship match.
As he has expressed at different moments throughout preseason, Petke was pleased with the fitness of his squad as they came through the 60 minutes without fatigue becoming a major factor.
“I actually felt alright. The turf was more of an issue on tired legs than the fitness was,” he said. “I was pretty impressed. We pushed them a lot more these first three weeks than we did last year in the first three weeks. It doesn’t really surprise me how they adapted to 60 minutes.”
It’s a quick turnaround for the tournament final, but with the positive result on Friday and still plenty of elements to work on, the team is buzzing about the progress thus far and the continuing grind ahead.
“It’s important to see and play against different teams around the world,” Saucedo said. “It was a good test for us in our first game and everyone followed the gameplan.”
Sunday’s match is scheduled to be streamed live on RSL.com with kickoff slated for 8:15 p.m. MT (5:15 p.m. HT).