HERRIMAN — There’s no easing into the preseason for Real Salt Lake this year.
Coach Mike Petke and his staff spent several months this offseason mapping out how they wanted the preseason to unfold, and it started with being upfront with the players on tactical expectations.
The first week of preseason is usually all about fitness, but this season it’s been a combination of fitness and also introduction RSL’s style.
“To me, it’s incredibly important they know how we’re going to play right from the start,” said Petke.
On multiple occasions this week during RSL’s various small-sided games, Petke has made a point of interrupting practice and precisely showing the players what pass they should’ve made in a particular situation.
He acknowledges the pass the player made was fine but reiterated it was a safe pass, and that a more direct, penetrating pass might be the better option. He said the safe pass will always be there.
That attacking mentality is what made Real Salt Lake one of the best teams in MLS the second half of last season, and to pick up where they left off Petke started talking tactics with his players on Day 1 of the preseason at Zions Bank Academy.
“I’ve been a part of so many preseasons where it’s a week and a half before you get into the tactics, and we wanted it immediately,” said Petke.
That’s realistically only possible if the first week of the preseason isn’t spent mostly on fitness, and Petke is thrilled the players made sure it hasn’t been.
“We wanted to push them as hard as we could out of the gate and the most important thing to me was they came back in shape. Every single one of them passed the test that we laid out in front of them,” said Petke.
That great fitness allowed Petke to push the players through their most rigorous practice yet on Thursday. A lot of time was spent on pressuring the ball and recovering as a team to simulate defending counter attacks, and all that sprinting can be a grind on the fourth day of the preseason.
“It’s a long way to go to March, but preseason is where you have to put in the work most of the time to get after it at the beginning of the season,” said Luis Silva. “This is the first week, the urgency of pressuring, getting after the ball, everyone recovering at the same time. Little things that we did last year, but not to perfection. We’re trying to do that right off the bat.”
After Thursday’s morning practice, the players walked straight into the adjacent weight room at the Zions Bank Real Academy for a lifting session. At the new facilities in Herriman, everything is streamlined for the players into one facility for the first time in franchise history.
On a daily basis both in the preseason and during the regular season Petke believes that allows for optimum performance from his players.
“There is literally no excuse at all for not performing, and not coming here with a smile on your face every day, and for me as a coach that’s amazing to have for our players,” said Petke about the new $78 million academy and training facility.