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Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Real Salt Lake midfielder Sebastian Saucedo (23) leaps into the arms of head coach Mike Petke after scoring a goal during the Real Salt Lake versus Toronto FC soccer match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday, May 18, 2019.

SANDY — After the momentum from his 30-yard screamer of a goal against Toronto FC on Saturday afternoon brought him to the ground, Sebastian “Bofo” Saucedo stood up and began celebrating with teammates and the crowd, all while slowly making his way to the opposite end of the field.

When he got to the RSL bench, the 5-foot-7, 145-pound Saucedo leapt into the arms of his coach, Mike Petke, and wrapped his arms around his neck. Petke returned the embrace, wrapping one arm around Saucedo’s back and putting his opposite hand on his neck.

It was a moment months in the making.

" I know he always has, but he really realizes now that I’m willing to give opportunities for many different reasons. Bofo earned this opportunity coming back to preseason this year with an unbelievable attitude. ... I think that was just an interesting moment because of the conversations that we have and him I think getting it. "
RSL coach Mike Petke, on Sebastian "Bofo" Saucedo

During the offseason, Petke and the 22-year-old Saucedo had what Saucedo described as a “huge discussion.” Following a 2018 season in which Saucedo appeared in 28 games but made just 10 starts, the two talked about what Saucedo needed to do both on and off the field to improve.

Among the things Petke said, Saucedo internalized that his time as a professional soccer player isn’t forever, and he needed to do a better job in team defense. Through the first 10 games of 2019, Saucedo was in the starting lineup just twice, but has started the last two games.

His goal in the 28th minute Saturday was his first score of the season, and he added an assist in the 60th minute in an eventual 3-0 RSL win.

The hug, Saucedo said, was for Petke “believing in me.”

“We came into an agreement and it has finally paid off,” Saucedo said. “I’m not going to sit here and say I’m going to start the next games ... but I can guarantee that if I keep doing the work that I’ve done, I don’t think there’s a doubt of me starting every game.”

Queried Saturday about the embrace, Petke twice interrupted a reporter’s question to joke that “Bofo just wants to start next game. That’s why he gave me a big hug. Let’s make this clear,” and, “It was like ‘Titanic,’ the music playing in the background, and it was a beautiful embrace.”

More seriously, though, Petke observed that Saucedo is seizing the chance he’s been given to make an impact.

“I know he always has, but he really realizes now that I’m willing to give opportunities for many different reasons,” Petke said. “Bofo earned this opportunity coming back to preseason this year with an unbelievable attitude. ... I think that was just an interesting moment because of the conversations that we have and him I think getting it.”

Petke noted that there are other “international quality” players who could appear in Saucedo’s spot such as Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata, but he’s been “very happy” with how Saucedo has played.

The coach then left both a charge for Saucedo to keep at it and words of encouragement, all wrapped up in one thought.

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“Now does that mean that Bofo’s going to start next game? No. We have five days of practice in between that’s going to determine that, but I’m happy for Bofo,” Petke said. “The last two games, he’s had some success, he’s done well, but the most important is the next game, and the next action, the next practice, the next minute. That’s what Bofo needs to keep realizing.”

It appears Saucedo is coming to that realization.

“I’ve just got to be thankful for the opportunity and obviously enjoy this moment,” he said. “Now, it carries to the next game. It’s a huge game at home and we still need points.”