Sandy • With the way Real Salt Lake ended its season on an upswing, coach Mike Petke is putting a premium on culture this offseason.
Part of that culture, Petke said Tuesday during his final press conference of the year, is finding players who will fit with the dynamic of the current roster. He said he wants 30 players — not 18, 22 or 25 — that will exhibit a team-first mentality.
“My staff and I, with the majority of players, have done a lot since I took over in improving the culture, and we’ve improved it a lot," Petke said. "But there’s still room for improvement. Still room for a lot of improvement.”
The club will have the opportunity to find those types of individuals after announcing Tuesday that it declined the options on 10 players: Connor Sparrow, Tony Beltran, David Horst, Taylor Peay, Demar Phillips, Jose Hernandez, Luke Mulholland, Sunday “Sunny” Stephen, Ricky Lopez-Espin and Luis Silva.
RSL also exercised the options on Andrew Putna, Danilo Acosta, Nick Besler, Corey Baird, Joao Plata, Sebastian Saucedo and Jefferson Savarino. The contracts of 14 others, including Albert Rusnák, were already guaranteed for next season.
Petke again referenced the importance of culture-building in regards to who the team retained and who it let let go. He also alluded to the club making more roster moves in the near future.
“That’s a big reason [as to] why some of the moves we’ve made — not all of them, some of them,” Petke said. “That’s a reason why there’s potentially going to be another couple of moves before the season starts next year. I’m not guaranteeing it, but [there is] potential.”
RSL’s roster featured a host of young players, some of which did not expect to play much with the first team this season. Because of some injuries and other factors, however, players like Aaron Herrera, Brooks Lennon and Saucedo saw the field frequently.
When asked how he plans to balance the young core’s development with bringing in players to improve the roster, Petke put the onus on the players to earn their spots, regardless of salary or status.
“If there’s one thing that we proved to the staff this year is we don’t care how much money you make, we don’t care where you’ve come from, what your pedigree is — you’re going to earn spots on the team,” Petke said.
Part of earning a spot in the rotation, Petke said, is not only playing the game on Saturday, but also working hard the week leading up to it. He mentioned “attitude, work rate, being a part of the culture [and] doing the right things” as reasons why he chooses who will play.
With the players the team let go, there are some holes that will emerge. Stephen and Mulholland both play the same position, and it appears neither of them will be back next year. Petke said that position is one that likely will be upgraded.
Petke also mentioned the fact that RSL has not had a striker for a year and a half, and said that position is the most glaring need. But the coach added that every spot on the field is a potential candidate for a makeover.
“Every position is looking to upgrade,” Petke said. “Every single position."
Where the organization decides to go from here and what players it will acquire remains to be seen. But for Petke, however RSL’s roster looks next season, the top priority is how the pieces will fit together both on and off the field.
“To me, we have talent, even though we’re young,” Petke said. “That side of it I’m happy with, even though you always want to improve. But the culture, to me, is of the utmost importance.”