"I told these players … expect a battle. That's all I'll say — expect a battle."
After RSL was ambushed in Texas last week, losing to Houston and Dallas by a combined score of 11-3, Petke said the club's recent problems include a lack of effort and a lack of talent at some positions, and made it clear jobs are in jeopardy.
He'll have the tools to make changes with the return of a slew of players who will be available again after missing time for various reasons.
Among them are young hopefuls Danny Acosta, Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo, who have been playing in the Under-20 World Cup, and veterans Chad Barrett, Demar Phillips and David Horst, who have been battling injuries. Forward Jefferson Savarino and goalkeeper Nick Rimando will also return from national team duty.
The area most ripe for change would seem to be the defense, which on Saturday allowed FC Dallas attackers to get behind the back line for free runs to the net again and again, resulting in 11 shots on goal for FC Dallas. Keeper Matt VanOekel, whose goals against average jumped to an unsightly 3.67, was hung out to dry far too many times.
"What's gone wrong?" center back Aaron Maund said, followed by a long pause. "Look, we've got a lot to improve on. We're going to get back to the drawing board and figure that out. Because the fans deserve better. We owe ourselves better. Salt Lake deserves better. We're going to figure it out and get back on track.
"We need to clear our minds of it and get back and be ready to work. We've just got to work. We've got to grind ourselves out of this slump we're in."
It helps that RSL's next game is at home, where it's 3-3-1 this season — as opposed to 1-7-1 on the road — against another struggling team, expansion Minnesota United, which is 0-5-2 on the road.
"We're at home for our next game, and wins definitely help the mindset," midfielder and team captain Kyle Beckerman said. "So hopefully we can get back to work and see if we can right the ship a little bit in the next game and use that as some momentum to get going.
"I've never been a part of anything like this. It's not a fun place to be. We're just going to have to dig deep. Nobody's going to get us out of this but ourselves."
It can't happen soon enough for Petke, whose frustration bubbled over after Saturday's loss at Dallas.
"I've played at this level," said Petke, who played 13 seasons for three MLS teams. "I was never a fantastic player. But the one thing I did was fight like a dog, listen to what the objectives are, know my role as a player and look to apply that. And for some reason, there is not enough of that.
"I've never been a part of something like this. … I'm just appalled by certain things that we talk about clear as day and then to go out there and not put one of them in play. ... That tells me one of two things: either they're not listening or they're not good enough.
"My wife and kids, who I haven't seen in a month and a half, thankfully I'm going to go see them now. It's not going to be a good visit. Because this is my job, this is my passion, this is my life. And this is not acceptable."