SANDY — Author Mark Z. Danielewski said, “No one ever really gets used to nightmares.”
In Real Salt Lake’s case, that’s a good thing.
The team needed to have the heebie-jeebies, going into Saturday’s match with the New York Red Bulls.
A week ago, RSL made history, Titanic-style. It grabbed a result in Dallas on opening day, but it followed with the most lopsided home loss in club history (5-1). Talk about a buzz-killer.
Saturday, Real was back in business after a 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls. So RSL starts the season 1-1-1, a marked improvement over a year ago. While Petke says he isn’t thinking about October, the snow on Saturday should have reminded him. What happens early often shows up late. Last year’s playoff aspirations lasted until the final game of the season. But Real missed by a hair, thanks to an awful beginning.
Petke wasn’t interested in talking about October 2018 on Saturday.
“I’ve been around this league for 20 years now. All right? It’s 34 games. It’s a long time. Everybody pushes the panic button last weekend,” Petke said. “Don’t get me wrong, there were some things went across my mind, too. Having said that, yes, you always want to start strong.
“So am I concerned about the end of the season? No. Right now I’m not.”
The apocalypse was over in a week. RSL is back to being an up-and-comer.
“It’s important sometimes to have a short-term memory,” said midfielder Albert Rusnak, whose penalty kick goal was Saturday’s only score. It occurred in, well, a New York minute. Actually, the fourth minute.
It was a fine way to begin the healing. The Red Bulls did everything except lead in the initial 45 minutes.
But they didn’t have a 5-1 loss as motivation.
“Listen, last week — and it’s the last thing I’ll answer about last week, all right? — we had hard time this week understanding what happened last week and explaining it,” Petke said. “I had a meeting with the players, a meeting with the owner — a long meeting with my owner — which I should.”
What came out of it?
“It was unexplainable,” Petke said.
One storyline on Saturday was Petke’s first game against the team that fired him in 2015. The bigger issue, though, was about making use of opportunities in March, instead of waiting until August. Last year, Real went its first five matches without a win, scoring just two goals. The team was never able to compensate for the hole it dug. Jeff Cassar was fired a year ago next Tuesday, Petke hired, and things looked better — until last week.
What if Real were to start terribly again?
This year’s plan was to hit the ground running. (Isn’t it always?) The away tie in Dallas advanced that agenda. But instead of routing expansion LAFC, Real was the routee.
Games with with the Red Bulls matter to Utahns on several levels. Comparisons between big-market New York and small-market Salt Lake never end, even after 14 years of MLS play. It’s a shopworn comparison. Bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Look at the U.S. budget deficit.
But Salt Lake and the Big Apple have one commonality. New York has recently moved toward bringing along its own talent instead of relying on aging international stars. Real has never pretended to be in the bidding business. It plans to grow from within, with the help of its gargantuan soccer complex in Herriman.
Salt Lake may not be Gotham, but you can find an available practice field in a jiffy.
Petke spent the week leading up to Saturday’s match denying it was anything extraordinary, despite the fact he was fired by the Red Bulls in 2015. But of course beating New York is notable under any circumstances, on any year. The Red Bulls came in 4-0 in all competitions, playing like, yes, bulls in a China shop. They waxed Portland 4-0 in MLS play and swept matches in Champions League competition.
Just another match for RSL?
Petke said afterward he wasn’t going for art, just a win.
Sometimes starting over is an art all by itself.