Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke is in a bit of a conundrum.
He wants to play attacking soccer, he wants to push the pace and dictate games home and away. RSL has been partially successful with that approach the past two road games and has arguably been the better team in the opening 60 minutes at Vancouver and Orlando.
Problem is, games are 90 minutes and RSL was outplayed in the latter stages of both matches — perhaps because of fatigue — and lost both by multiple goals.
In fact, Real Salt Lake has lost its last four road games by multiple goals. Repeatedly coming up empty away from Rio Tinto Stadium is preventing the club from making a jump up the Western Conference standings despite a four-game winning streak at home.
As Real Salt Lake travels to fellow middle-of-the-table-foe Philadelphia this Saturday (5:30 p.m., KMYU), perhaps a conservative approach could help it return with at least a point in its back pocket.
“Looking forward to Philadelphia this week, there could be a tactical approach based around defense,” said Petke. “The way that I’ve wanted to play since I came in here is very attack minded. It’s kind of balancing that fine line of going away from my principles of how I want to play as opposed to going in and saying ‘we’re on the road and I want to get a result.”
Real Salt Lake’s last road victory was back on Aug. 13, and it’s 0-7-2 in the nine games since.
Petke acknowledges RSL’s youthful backline, with several players playing out of position, has contributed to some of the goals against them. Unless Marcelo Silva returns to the lineup at center back, Petke will likely trot out another youthful defense.
Brooks Lennon believes strides are being made defensively even in the losses.
“We just need to build on the performances on the road and try and pick up points,” he said. “I think we’ve been playing well in those games, sometimes we might be switched off, and you can’t be switched off on the road.”
In particular, you can’t be switched off when committing numbers forward, which might get a little tweak this weekend.
Or, Petke will continue to ask his players to push the pace on the road and hope they’ve learned from previous mistakes enough to grind out an elusive road result.
The mentality of the group could impact Petke’s decision to keep the approach status quo.
“I think the confidence throughout the whole team right now is really high. Even though we picked up some losses on the road, the performances were there, the work ethic and commitment in trying to pick up points was there,” he said.
RSL will likely be without Joao Plata for Saturday’s game after he left last week’s game with what the team described as an undisclosed injury. He’s listed as questionable on the injury report.
Petke has options for plugging that hole. Last weekend when Plata had to be subbed off in the first half Petke moved Pablo Ruiz up into Plata’s spot and inserted Adam Henley backline against 10-man D.C. United.
With a week to prepare, he might elect to slide Corey Baird into Plata’s spot to get Luis Silva back in the starting lineup. After all, Silva started six of the first seven matches this season before picking up an injury against Colorado on April 21. Silva’s played 11 minutes as a sub in each of the past two games.