Mike Petke impressed with Joao Plata, rest of RSL attack in win over Union

SANDY, Utah — First halves this season have been tricky for Real Salt Lake, but a 36th-minute goal gave them their first halftime lead under coach Mike Petke. And it proved to be enough in a 1-0 victory over the red-hot Philadelphia Union on Saturday.

“They managed it well, got the goal, held on and played some good soccer around it,” Petke said.

RSL had scored just three times in the first half this season while giving up 13 goals. Whether the goal or clean sheet was more important in those first 45 minutes against Philadelphia, the RSL attack showed signs that it’s coming around.

All four starting attacking players — Albert Rusnak, Luis Silva, Jefferson Savarino and Joao Plata — put in a solid performance before three of them were subbed off in the second half.

Plata netted the game-winner with his first goal of the season on a combination of passes inside the box with Savarino. It had been a long time coming.

“I had some words with Plata over the last couple weeks. ‘The goal will come. The goal will come,'” Petke said. “I didn’t want the frustration to affect his game.

“I was very happy that he got the goal tonight because he deserved it. He played a hell of a game. Now this is hopefully going to do something a bit more for his confidence.”

A commanding performance like Saturday’s 1-0 victory should give the whole team more confidence. Each of the attackers showed they understand what Petke is asking of them and putting it into action on the field.

“I could single out Plata, Albert, Savarino,” Petke said. “I could single out everybody, but especially those three in the attacking half of the midfield.”

Rusnak and Savarino have both been performing well in their first forays into MLS. Rusnak has 12 games under his belt, while Savarino started for the second time Saturday after coming to Salt Lake on loan from Venezuela.

“I look at guys like Jefferson and Albert who come over from another country, and there’s always an adjustment period," Petke said. "Right now [Savarino] is doing well, but he could be so much better once he gets adjusted to the league."

Savarino combined well with Plata, Rusnak and Silva. He hasn’t needed much time to adjust, but now that both he and Rusnak are feeding the RSL attack, it’s becoming easier and easier to see why Petke thinks they have a lot more left to give.

In addition, Silva has started in place of Yura Movsisyan in two of the last three games and has made his mark combining in the center of the field.

“Luis brings something special," Petke said. "He’s so dynamic that he can drop back in there and combine. Him and Yura, they bring something different to the role. Yura is a true No. 9. Luis is not. What that gives us is he’s able to come back and combine and open space behind him.”

Silva almost found a goal in the first half, but saw it pushed wide by Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake, one of his seven saves on the day.

Movsisyan was subbed on in the 64th minute and he found shots for himself, as well. The options Petke now has in the attack are starting to pay dividends — and that’s before Brooks Lennon, Sebastian Saucedo, and Jordan Allen are added back to the lineup.

But there’s always more Petke wants out of his players, so even a good win like Saturday's didn’t satisfy him entirely when it came to the attack.

“Even the opportunities we had, I missed half of it because I was turning around yelling at my assistant coaches,” Petke said. “I see potential in a lot of these players. Even though we got the goal, we could have been better.”