SANDY — Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke says he’s not one to often dwell on the past, but his club’s 4-1 loss to the Portland Timbers on Oct. 6 ate at him.
It stung because he felt the performance was not indicative of how good his team really is. It stung because, as he acknowledged that night, he missed the mark on how to approach the game tactically.
As such, a response was needed Thursday night as RSL returned to action at Rio Tinto Stadium against the New England Revolution after an extended international break. Not only did the team want to get back on track, but it needed a win to keep firm control of the sixth and final Western Conference playoff spot as its regular season concludes Sunday.
Petke’s players certainly delivered in their home finale, scoring three goals in the first 30 minutes, which allowed them to cruise the rest of the way in what was ultimately a 4-1 win.
“It was important for them to come out tonight and start with the right tempo, the energy, the game plan we had, so I’m proud of these guys,” he said. “It was the type of effort that we need, because when you put the effort in, quality’s going to come out, and then it’s a matchup of quality from another team, and I feel we have just as much if not more quality than any team in this league.”
With the victory, RSL widened its lead over the seventh-place L.A. Galaxy to four points and the eighth-place Vancouver Whitecaps to six. All three clubs will play Sunday, with the Galaxy and Whitecaps having one more match apiece on Oct. 28.
The win came on a night when RSL went without five key players. Kyle Beckerman and Sunday Stephen were suspended because of yellow card accumulation, and Joao Plata, Albert Rusnak and Jefferson Savarino were on the reserve list after they had competed for their native countries during the break.
On the plus side, RSL welcomed back veteran Luke Mulholland, who has missed all but a minute of the season after undergoing back surgery.
“I think we had a lot of guys that hadn’t gotten minutes that they wanted throughout the year, and this gave them a chance to prove themselves, and they came out hungry,” said rookie star Corey Baird, who assisted Nick Besler on the first goal and scored the third. “For the first half hour of the game we dominated and were flying on the counter. That’s the hunger and desire we need to come out with every single game, and I think the guys that were brought into the lineup today brought that.”
Added Bofo Saucedo, who scored the second goal of the game: “The attitude from the players that got the opportunity to play, everyone showed character, everyone showed that they wanted to be in the starting 11, and I think that was the most important thing.”Comment on this story
Petke said his approach at halftime was as if the game were still tied at 0-0, and Damir Kreilach added to the tally five minutes into the second half. The only Revolution score on a night when RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando was fantastic came in the 69th minute as Kelyn Rowe drove home a free kick from Diego Fagundez.
Although RSL will have short rest before the season finale Sunday afternoon against the Timbers in Portland, Petke said his group should be ready given that the fight for the playoffs is still on.
“I don’t think there needs to be much motivation for these guys,” he said. “They understand it’s the last game of the season and we have a great opportunity ahead of us."