SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke isn’t one to shy away from making controversial lineup decisions. While that may be how it looks from the outside, he wouldn’t think of doing it any other way.
“They’re not controversial to me, or my staff, or the majority of the players, because there’s expectations and a lot of things go into it, not just talent,” Petke said.
Justen Glad is a prime example. He played in 50 straight games, until the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs when the 21-year-old didn’t start in Salt Lake’s three postseason games.
“My opinion of Justen has not changed one bit,” Petke said. “Justen is one of my favorite players on this roster. He’s a fantastic young man and he’s a fantastic player with a huge future if he keeps going the course. There were reasons we made that change. I know Justen probably wasn’t thrilled about it.”
Petke has repeatedly said that no position is given to anyone and competition will always win the day. The young players who haven’t broken into the starting lineup or haven’t received the playing time they desired are faced with a specific invitation: Do better in every facet.
“I can’t imagine any of them being surprised at the number of games that they’ve gotten,” Petke said. “Some of them might think they deserved to get more, but it goes down to not just playing on a Saturday, playing Monday through Friday, attitude, work rate, being a part of the culture, doing the right things.”
“Maybe there’s another place in this league where they’ll give these young players more minutes, but it all comes down to them,” Petke said. “If anybody is unhappy as a young player with the amount of minutes they got, the grass isn’t greener on the other side.”
Next year they’ll have similar opportunities, but there’s no telling how much additional playing time they’ll receive before depth and competition find someone else to fill their spots. Petke expects improvement now.
“They have to earn that position,” Petke said. “This is professional sports. The goal is to improve hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.”
They won’t have very far to look for tips as multiple players took advantage of their opportunities to improve and grab starting spots this season. Corey Baird, Aaron Herrera and Brooks Lennon all made the starting lineup consistently when they weren’t the ones penciled in to fill those roles.
“We don’t care how much money you make,” Petke said. “We don’t care where you’ve come from or what your pedigree is. You’re going to earn spots on the team and those young players, they earned it.”