SANDY, Utah – New head coach, new approach.
In the first week leading Real Salt Lake, new head coach Mike Petke has been working on remaking the team in his own image.
“Mike’s a guy who is a really hard worker, a hard-nosed defender. He was also a really classy player on the ball. He always was,” RSL defender Chris Wingert, who was Petke's teammate in Colorado from 2006-07, said. “He’s encouraging us to be very similar to that. To be hard to play against and when we have the ball to play some nice attacking soccer.”
Petke is tasked with turning around the season as Salt Lake sit at the bottom of the Western Conference after five games, having given up five goals more than they have scored, including four last week against expansion side Minnesota.
According to the team, it all starts with playing aggressively, which should add to offensive opportunities and instill some confidence in the backline.
“He wants us to play aggressive, defend higher up and actually stay up there,” RSL striker Yura Movsisyan said. “I think that’s very good because we’re a lot closer to goal and we’ll have a lot more opportunities.
“We have to trust our backline a lot more that they can play 1-on-1 with any striker in the league. I think that’s what he’s trying to make us realize and put the confidence back into the guys.”
Creating a confident defense very well might be creating a defense that plays like Petke did.
Another former teammate, goalkeeper Nick Rimando, sees a lot of Petke the player in Petke the coach.
“He has always been passionate. He has always wanted to win. He was always the guy in the locker room saying stuff to get you going. He led by example and went out there and kicked people. He was very aggressive himself. I can see it carrying over in his coaching career,” Rimando said.
Getting everyone up to speed will be a process, but Petke has taken a focused approach on training and changing his side's approach.
“You can see just the way he runs practices and the way he talks, he sets the tone,” Movsisyan said. “That’s a positive thing, because it translates to the players. He makes it clear. He doesn’t put 15-20 things out there for the players to figure out. It’s a couple of things, but he hammers it in there.”
“In the beginning, it’s not going to be perfect under a new coach,” Rimando said. “As long as we get the basics of what he’s looking for and have the guys buy in, I like where this is going to go.”