Sandy • On another day, he would have been standing at midfield and barking out orders. Mike Petke is never shy about speaking up. But the Real Salt Lake coach was silent as he crouched along the sideline and watched his team's training session Friday morning.
RSL assistant coach Freddy Juarez, meanwhile, was in the center of the action, instructing the team's outside defenders on when to push forward and when to drop back.
"I needed Freddy to take more of a front role," Petke said after the team's final practice of the week wrapped up. "He did everything. They need to hear his voice."
Petke earned praise from players and pundits alike for his postgame remarks, replete with visual aides, following last week's 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City about some questionable officiating and subsequent decisions by the league's review committee. He also earned himself an ejection and a one-game suspension that night. Petke is banned from the sidelines and back hallways at Rio Tinto Stadium until the final whistle blows. So the man in the sweater will be sweating it out alone in a box overlooking the field Saturday night.
Even if the printer in his office has been fixed, Petke couldn't pass along messages to his guys Saturday.
"It's like me saying goodbye to my kids before they go to prom," the coach said Friday, "because I'm not going to be able to have any communication with them tomorrow until after the game. So I told them to behave themselves and be home by midnight."
But first he'd like them to score and to win.
RSL has scored 11 goals in its three-game unbeaten streak, led by three from striker Joao Plata. Petke attributed some of the team's recent success to players finally returning to health.
"It raises the level in training," the coach said. "When a player has no competition, it's only human nature that he's going to feel comfortable and confident. When he has something to fight for, he's going to be fighting for it."
Left back DeMar Philips, however, is likely to miss Saturday's game because of a hamstring injury.
The Columbus Crew, meanwhile, will be missing two regulars in defense, with Jonathan Mensah and Lalas Abubakar suspended for the match after picking up red cards in their last game. Attacker Federico Higuain also could miss the game due to a thigh strain.
"This is not a depleted team," Petke cautioned. "They have key guys out like we've had, but they have a lot of talent still out there."
RSL's players believe the same holds true of their coaching staff.
"Freddy is an amazing coach," defender Justen Glad said. "We're going to play well under whoever is coaching."
And Saturday's contest provides a good opportunity at home for a Salt Lake team in need of victories. RSL currently sits in eighth place in the West, three points below the red line and sixth-place Vancouver. Petke said he and his staff have mapped out the team's remaining schedule with a specific point total in mind as they try to re-enter the playoff picture.
Moving three points closer to that number will be Juarez's challenge Saturday night.