We're wondering what's going on here? When did we stop playing? When did we stop having ideas? —Mike Petke
SANDY — If you’re a Real Salt Lake fan puzzled by what’s going on this season with the team’s attack, you’re not alone. Mike Petke is right there with you.
Despite Saturday’s 2-1 win over Vancouver, Petke acknowledged RSL’s attacking quality has been lacking early in 2018.
“If I'm being very honest in assessing the team five games in, I don't like the way we're playing with the ball. I don't think a lot of the players do. We're wondering what's going on here? When did we stop playing? When did we stop having ideas? From last year and from preseason this year, it seems to be a little bit of a confidence thing,” said Petke.
When things are clicking, Petke said his team is pretty fun to watch, but those moments have been few and far between. There were glimpses of the style Petke wants his team to play, particularly in the 88th-minute goal from Jefferson Savarino on build-up play from Damir Kreilach and Corey Baird.
Those chances aren’t being created as frequently as anyone would hope. RSL recorded nine shots in Saturday’s win against Vancouver, the fourth time in five games this year it has recorded single-digit shots.
For a team that led MLS averaging 16.1 shots per game last season, its 10.6 average five games into 2018 is a steep decline.
Is it an ideas issue as Petke suggested? Or perhaps have opponents figured out a better way to slow down Salt Lake this season?
Numerous other reasons are probably contributing, but getting it fixed isn’t the top priority for Petke. After what happened defensively against Los Angeles FC and Toronto this season, the priority has been at the other end of the field.
“We've really been trying to focus on defensive structure, getting behind the ball and then playing from there. You look at the New York game, and you look at this game tonight, these guys are putting that effort in. Now we have to remember how we played out of that last year. So we'll get there,” said Petke.
Part of the reason it hasn’t been there consistently is poor passing out of the back — which reared its head at least a half dozen times in the first half against Vancouver. Each one of those giveaways prevented a potential RSL buildup, but then also put everyone in emergency defending mode.
Staying compact defensively and then playing out from there figures to be a primary focus for Real Salt Lake again this Wednesday when the club travels to New York City FC. With defender Demar Phillips and Marcelo Silva both leaving Saturday’s match with injury, Petke will likely have to trot out another patchwork back line, which he’s been forced to do almost every game because of injury setbacks.