Laura Seitz, Deseret News
The approach for Real Salt Lake during the two FIFA scheduling breaks during the 2017 season couldn’t have been handled much differently.
The first break was in early June, and came on the heels of RSL’s dreadful two-game swing to Texas in which it was outscored 11-3 in losses to Houston and FC Dallas.
Coach Mike Petke treated the extra week off as a mini preseason and worked his players extremely hard. The team’s record prior to that break was 4-10-2, but is 6-3-3 since.
Realizing his team is in pretty good form right now, Petke kept things pretty simple during this past off week. He said it was all about just maintaining their fitness.
“They’re at a point in the season we didn’t need that bit of a preseason to really push them, just maintaining, no injuries, keeping them sharp,” said Petke.
All of it was with a keen eye toward this weekend’s critical match at Vancouver this Saturday (8 p.m., KMYU).
Vancouver occupies the fourth spot in the Western Conference playoff race at the moment and is one of numerous teams RSL is trying to chase down in the final month of the season. Petke’s team sits in eighth place, but it only trails Vancouver by three points.
“There’s some pressure on us right now to get the points, this is the time of year when you can smell the playoffs right around the corner,” said Nick Rimando.
Real Salt Lake’s current playoff position is in stark contrast to where it stood at this point last year. With six games remaining in the regular season last year, RSL occupied the No. 2 spot in the West and seemed like a legitimate MLS Cup contender.
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Over those last six games, however, it scored two goals and posted a 0-4-2 record and barely qualified for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. Its playoff stay was very brief, losing to Los Angeles 3-1 in the one-game playoff.
A year later, it is hoping to flip the script and climb up the table, and it starts with a difficult match in Canada this weekend. Vancouver is 3-1-2 over its past six matches, including a solid road win at Orlando before the break.
Petke said the challenges against Vancouver are obvious.
“They’re a team that’s No. 1 in the league in set piece goals, and I think they’re No. 2 or 3 with the number of crosses they get in the run of play,” he said. “They get back in such great shape, in deep, giving you nothing, and then they’re explosive on the counterattack.”
Getting pressure to the ball and denying those early crosses will be key. According to Rimando, so will not conceding “dumb fouls around the box or in dangerous areas.”
Real Salt Lake is coming off back-to-back victories at home in which it scored four goals each, and it hopes the momentum hasn’t been thwarted by the extra rest.