Mid-week games are one of my very favorite things. It keeps the emotional roller coaster rolling along for fans and gives the team a quick opportunity to move on from a very poor result on the weekend. Hell, it could even help build momentum for a run (hopes and prayers, people).
I was pretty up for this match after Saturday and even more so after I saw the line-up. I will, however, admit that after NYCFC scored early on in the match I very quickly fell into the “oh no, not again” mental state. This is not a happy place for me. Now, it has to be said that there is so much that this team needs to work on. Mike says it, “too much probably”, all the time - it’s a process. A big part of that process is going to be the ups and downs of week after week getting healthier and more consistent.
What stood out for me in this one was the fight in the team. The chip on the shoulders of some of the big guys that we’ve been waiting for to step up. Playing through tough tackles, moving well off the ball, getting stuck in on some tackles — FINALLY.
We heard on this weeks episode of OnFrame some very interesting talk from both Mike Petke and Craig Waibel. It’s a type of talk that, at least publicly, we just haven’t heard for a long time from the club. In past years, even when the team was struggling, things were very positive with tag-lines like “on to the next one” becoming almost a team mantra. The real world perspective that was expressed during the radio show was eye opening and somewhat of a warning shot across the bow of players who may have been slacking off or not taking their roles seriously enough for Mike and Craig.
As we move further and further away from the Jeff Cassar era at Real Salt Lake it’s becoming easier to look back and pin-point the more nuanced issues that existed under his leadership. Accountability, more so to the level that a guy like Mike seems to demand, stands out as one of his short comings.
I look at this week as the week that the management and Mike decided that it was time to put up or shut up. Mike basically called out their pride and their very manhood. Craig called out the veterans putting most of it on them. A one-two punch that I can only assume continued in trainings, team talks, and pre-game (which Mike said) discussions.
We’ve talked about Mike being a passionate player and how that transitioned into his coaching. Maybe pairing that passion with some accountability and pressure will help us as we come back from injury and international duty into the summer stretch. I really hope that is the case and that what we saw on the field last night can continue and we can move past the roughest stretch in recent memory. For that to happen veterans like Plata, Maund, and Schuler need to keep having games like they had last night; young guys like Albert and Sava need to keep pressing and showing some of the other guys what they bring to the table; and everyone on the team will need to keep stepping up on both sides of the ball.
It’s still a process, but it seems like Mike may have stumbled on to the button that he can push to move us forward a little at a time. Could it be that calling guys out publicly, though not by name, has lit a fire under peoples butts just enough that we can fight through the injuries and national team call-ups to find more results? Saturday against Seattle will show us a lot as they are struggling almost as much as we are. Hopefully the fire is lit and Mike can keep it stoked and burning.