SANDY — Jefferson Savarino appears to be a marked man for Real Salt Lake.
The winger is the sixth-most fouled player in MLS this season with 38 fouls suffered, with 11 of those coming in the past two games against San Jose and Columbus.
The rotational fouling has been a serious source of frustration for coach Mike Petke, as no cards have been shown on Savarino fouls suffered in the past two games.
Adding to the frustration in last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Columbus was something the fourth official told him during the game. He informed Petke they are aware that Savarino gets fouled a lot, “and still he gets fouled and fouled and there’s no card given to control the play and set the tone.”
How the refs let Kansas City defend Savarino in Wednesday’s showdown at Rio Tinto Stadium (KMYU, 8 p.m.) is one of the most intriguing storylines heading into the Fourth of July showdown.
Perhaps more importantly for Real Salt Lake, how is Savarino going to adjust?
A year ago, Savarino was fouled slightly more frequently than he’s been fouled this year, but his production remained pretty steady as he finished with six goals and five assists in 1,673 minutes. In 2018, he’s played 1,504 minutes and is approaching his total from last year, but the production has dipped dramatically with just two goals and two assists.
Petke has a suggestion for Savarino on Wednesday, even though he joked it would ironically get him a quick yellow card.
“If he’s sick of it for two games now, which we all are, and it’s kind of getting to his head, as soon as the whistle blows go out and put a fricking tackle on the guy hard, in their end,” said Petke.
Realistically though, Petke said Savarino needs to make adjustments to his game to continue to be effective.
“For him it’s about being more mentally strong and realizing that you’re a marked man now and teams are going to be defending you like that, so you have to be more fluid, you have to find areas to get behind them and maybe they foul you for a free kick or something, just be a little clever and just continue to do the things you do well,” said Petke.
Real Salt Lake could use a little Savarino spark as it’s 0-2-1 over the past three games with just two goals scored.
Getting into a rhythm will be tough for anyone this Saturday against West-leading Sporting Kansas City.
“You might know what to expect but they still pull it off a lot of times, most times, and it’s because of their movement and they have secondary and third options if you cut off the first thing they’re going to do, and they’re very fluid,” said Petke.
Nick Rimando said that coach Peter Vermes always has Kansas City very well organized and they hunt the ball incredibly well and force giveaways.
The departure of Benny Feilhaber to Los Angeles FC and Dom Dwyer to Orlando has taken some of the luster off the once fierce rivalry between RSL and Kansas City, but Rimando said the rivalry is still there.Comment on this story
“It’s still three points on the line, it’s still Kansas City. They have great players. Those players moved on and they brought in some other talented players we have to focus on,” said Rimando.
Real Salt Lake got a glimpse of Kansas City’s approach in a U.S. Open Cup loss at Rio Tinto Stadium back on June 6, a game in which Petke rested all of his starters. Kansas City elected to start a few of its regulars and was rewarded with the victory.
Wednesday’s game is the first of two this week at Rio Tinto Stadium against marquee Western Conference opponents, as RSL also hosts FC Dallas on Saturday.