FILE: Goalkeeper Nick Rimando laughs during a Real Salt Lake practice at America First Field in Sandy on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.

SANDY — The sample size is too small to be considered significant, but one game into the 2019 MLS season it appears Mike Petke’s tweak to the preseason worked.

Real Salt Lake showed bite and toughness in Houston last weekend to earn a 1-1 draw, an encouraging sign for a team that gave up the most goals last season among the 12 teams that qualified for the playoffs.

“Mike gave us a game plan and I think we succeeded at that. We wanted to be tougher on the road and I think our first game we did that. We were hard to play against and we got a result, so confident going into this Saturday for sure,” said RSL keeper Nick Rimando.

Most road games last year, Real Salt Lake wasn’t successful in executing those game plans as it finished with a 3-11-3 record away from Rio Tinto Stadium.

That poor road form was a major reason Petke tweaked the beginning of RSL’s preseason back in January.

" Defensively we were great this first game, we’ve got to continue with that. "
RSL keeper Nick Rimando

In the 2018 preseason RSL spent the first week and a half building an attacking foundation, whereas this year the first week and a half was spent building the defensive foundation.

“We just wanted to hammer away at our collective defensive effort from the start,” said Petke back in the preseason.

In preseason losses to FC Dallas and Portland that improved defensive mentality seemed to be lacking, but once the games started counting for real last weekend the sharpness showed.

“Defensively we were great this first game, we’ve got to continue with that. Sometimes it doesn’t go our way, especially on the road, but if we can build on what we did in Houston, that defensive effort all year long will be tough to play against,” said Rimando. “Last year we weren’t that great so it’s a good step in the right direction.”

Rimando particularly praised the center back pairing of Marcelo Silva and Nedum Onuoha, saying they “played like men out there.”

He felt like they took control of the backline and helped hold Houston to just one shot on goal.

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Ironically enough, Real Salt Lake opened last season with a similar strong road result as it earned a 1-1 draw at FC Dallas. It returned home and fell to Los Angeles FC 5-1, the first of numerous poor defensive performances in 2018.

Fast forward to this season and RSL will try to back up its season-opening road tie with a home win against the Vancouver Whitecaps this Saturday at 4 p.m.

Vancouver scored a pair of goals in a 3-2 loss at home to Minnesota last weekend and will provide another good defensive test for RSL’s backline.