Real Salt Lake focuses on defense early in training camp

Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke looks on against the Colorado Rapids in the first half of an MLS soccer match, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, in Commerce City, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Herriman • After a week in Los Angeles, Real Salt Lake returned home for its second stint of training camp Monday armed with a sense of being ahead of schedule for a team with so many new faces going into the 2019 regular season.

The club started camp last week with a short day at its training facility before embarking on a five-day dalliance of sorts to the sunnier L.A., looking to jump-start the process of becoming a team that will fare better than last season. Coach Mike Petke, in his second preseason with the team, decided to change things up a bit in furtherance of that goal.

RSL started the 2019 training camp with a focus on its defensive principles, Petke said. Last season, the team started with attacking. Part of the reason for the shift is the team’s road record last year (3-11-3).

“We just wanted to have our way of our collective defensive effort from the start,” Petke said.

At one point during training, four defenders were tasked with reacting to passes in unison, making sure they kept their shape and spacing depending on what side of the field the ball was on. In another that was performed just before the team took its first break of the day, the defenders focused on movement together without pressure.

The goal of these “elementary” drills, Petke said, is for the movements to become second nature for the players on the field so the coaches don’t have to shout instructions during games from the sidelines about where to stand and other specifics about positioning.

While the work may seem basic for professional soccer players, Petke said it’s important to get back to basics sooner rather than later. Focusing on the simpler parts of defensive principles, he said, will pay dividends throughout the season.

“If we’re doing this stuff and really hammering away at it in the fifth week of preseason, then we’re behind,” Petke said, adding that other parts of practice involved more intricate defensive concepts.

RSL’s time in L.A. ended with a scrimmage against the Pateadores Under-19 team. The match was split into 30-minute intervals and Petke tinkered with different lineups throughout. RSL won the match 10-0, Petke said.

But Petke wasn’t focused on the win against a younger, less experienced team. What he liked was the way his players incorporated into the match the concepts they worked on during their time there.

Over the next week in Utah, Petke and his staff will introduce their vision of how the team will attack this season, he said.

RSL opens the Major League Soccer season March 2 at Houston.

Jordan Allen still missing

Jordan Allen, a fifth-year homegrown player for RSL, was not seen at camp Monday. Last week, before the team left for L.A., Petke said he was given “an excused day” for personal reasons.

It appears Allen’s status remains unchanged. Petke said Monday that Allen is “still given permission to take care of some things.”

Allen missed all of last season due to an injury.