March 10, 2018 has become a black mark in the history of Real Salt Lake. Expansion side LAFC, in their second professional game ever, scored 5 goals at the feared Rio Tinto stadium. Known as a stronghold in North America, the RioT and it’s army of supporters were the only thing from Salt Lake that showed up on Saturday. They made me proud that I bleed red.
So what happened? Because that was the worst display I’ve ever seen of an RSL squad. LAFC slapped us around so hard it made me wish the ref could pull out a mercy card. They were 100% prepared to play against RSL. Their defense was compact and well organized, and they took the knowledge that this was a big game for the club and used it against us. We had to over commit into their game plan, and then their extremely talented midfield would pop a crisp pass through our mess of a backline and score. Just that easy.
Where was RSL? On another planet, that’s where. The only player that looked like a professional was Jefferson Savarino, and even he faded into outer space. Something is wrong when you are losing to a team who’s scoring on counters and your backline looks like Lennon-Glad-Phillips by the end of the game. If you want an in-depth analysis Ben Smith does an amazing job in his post “Three things RSL can improve after 5-1 loss to LAFC in home opener".
When it came time for the post-match interview a red faced Mike Petke calmly walked into the conference room and sat down to the mic. There must have been a hundred serenity now’s on his way to that room for him to look that composed. The atmosphere was subdued, with disappointed awkwardness.
“...I’m not going to answer very many questions... The thing that I’m going to be saying is I apologize to my owner. A lot of places in the world, I’d either be fired right now or I would resign... It’s embarrassing. And it starts from the top. I apologize to the fans who came out here for this. At the end of the day, it’s my job to get the team ready to play. And put the effort in. That’s my job description, and I did not fulfill that today... It was an anomaly. It was not representative of who I am as a person, as a coach. It’s not representative of what this organization is. It’s not representative of who these players are. So, I apologize.”
At least he’s owning up. He knows what’s his responsibility, and he’s being a professional about it. There’s a lot of blame to be put on player performances, but he does what an honorable coach should do. He’s accountable for his errors. That’s someone who cares about what he’s trying to accomplish.
RSL faithful love their coach with a lot of heart, so it’s easy for me to think that they will forgive him pretty quickly...this time at least. Now, Mike Petke’s former coaching post the New York Red Bulls are coming to town next Saturday, March 17. There might be a few, heavy chips on his shoulder going into this one. If RSL doesn’t get themselves standing straight and flying tight by next match Petke’s in some really deep water.
One thing this game didn’t take from us is our sense of optimism about this team we have right now. We all know what Mike Petke and company have put together. They played great last week, they’ll play great again. I don’t think we should be worrying about that. But, if this match truly was an “anomaly” then the data better show that by the final whistle on St. Patrick’s Day.