Herriman • Real Salt Lake entered the 2019 season confident it had the tools to improve on last season’s playoff push. With one of the deepest rosters in recent years and Mike Petke evolving as a coach, the team appeared primed to hit the ground running when the games started to matter.
But through the first 10 games, Real has accrued only 10 points and sits eighth in the Western Conference table, two spots below the playoff line. The team is 3-6-1, has already lost two games at home and has struggled to put together a full 90 minutes of soccer throughout the season.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The stumble out of the gate fits right in with RSL’s starts the previous two seasons. The team was 4-5-1 at the 10-game mark last season and 2-6-2 in 2017.
While there are still 24 regula- season games remaining, there is a collective sense around the team that it should be higher in the standings at this point of the season.
“I feel we could be and we should be a little bit higher on the table — definitely a few more points,” midfielder Albert Rusnák said Tuesday after training. “For us to lose the games at home — that we have lost now two out of four — that’s not something that we’ve been used to last year.”
RUNNING IN MUD
RSL’s first 10 games in last five seasons:
RSL has already endured a four-game losing streak this season, which came amid a rash of red cards that held key players out of games to start the year. More recently, Salt Lake won two straight games, one of which was on the road, but immediately followed that with a two-game losing streak.
“Around the league, there’s a lot of teams struggling,” Petke said. “I don’t think we’re struggling. I think that we’re inconsistent.”
Petke believes that his team would have accrued additional points had it not picked up red cards and finished those games with 11 players on the field. He also points out that in recent years, Real has started slow and still found ways to win games down the stretch of the season.
Forward Corey Baird, the league’s reigning rookie of the year, said RSL’s difficult road schedule to start the season is not an excuse for the team’s current position, but adds that Real is gradually getting where it wants to go.
“We want to be one of those top teams,” Baird said. “We have to find ways to get points there. That’s where sometimes we put together a good 60 minutes but not a good 90 minutes altogether and teams are able to capitalize on us. … It’s something we’re trying to go over the film, trying to learn what we have to do.”
Baird said the key to becoming a more consistent team is figuring out ways to weather storms during games. At times this season, players have grown frustrated when not playing well, which has had an adverse impact on their overall performance, he said.
“I think when the chips are down, we aren’t necessarily a tough team to play against right now,” Baird said. “When we’re flying, I think we’re one of the best teams in the league. But we have to make sure that when things don’t go well, we don’t fall apart.”
Some aren’t worried about where the team stands after 10 games. Rusnák pointed out that RSL is only one point away from a playoff spot and there are still more than 60 points available for which to play.
“There can’t be any concern,” Rusnák said. “It’s way too early.”