HERRIMAN — Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke is tweaking his approach this preseason.
He’s starting from the back and building toward the front, a contradiction to the approach in 2018 when the attacking side got the early priority.
Regardless of the order, the amount of time spent on each side of the ball will be about the same as last year. However, considering the defensive struggles RSL endured last year, Petke believes establishing a solid foundation on defense has to be the priority.
“We thought that was important based on our road record last year, the times we gave up goals, the reasons we gave up goals, and we just wanted to hammer away at our collective defensive effort from the start,” said Petke.
Real Salt Lake had the fewest road wins of the six Western Conference teams that qualified for the playoffs and it had the only negative overall goal differential of those six teams.
Things didn’t get better defensively in the playoffs either, as RSL conceded four goals in three games.
One of the first things Petke and the coaching staff did during the first phase of the preseason in Los Angeles last week was show the players a video of how they need to defend and all the intangibles that go along with that.
Petke said that spending the first week of preseason in a warmer climate allowed everyone to hit the ground running in the build-up toward the March 2 season opener.
“It was important to start that first week outside on grass in nice weather so we could push them hard,” said Petke.
Real Salt Lake is training at the indoor facility at the Zions Bank Real Academy this week before heading out to Hawaii and Arizona for the next two weeks of the preseason. Petke said he’ll gradually introduce the attacking elements into the preseason this week.
One of the biggest foundations that Petke is trying to establish defensively is consistency. To achieve that, he’s being very repetitive with numerous aspects of the defense, but by doing so he hopes things like pinching in, stepping and recovery will become second nature to the players.
There’s no room for complacency from the players either, because the competition for playing time will be high.
With Tony Beltran back after missing all of the 2018 season recovering from ACL surgery, he’ll challenge Brooks Lennon and Aaron Herrera for playing time at outside back. At center back, Justen Glad, Marcelo Silva and Nedum Onuoha will all expect to start every week as well.
“We have a number of good players in the same position. Going to be a hell of a fight and a lot of rotation this year based off of the games that we play and based off of I know what these players are capable,” said Petke.