Sandy • With the last three games under his belt as interim coach, Freddy Juarez’s 2019 record has yet to be blemished. He’s led Real Salt Lake to a draw against FC Dallas and two consecutive comeback wins over New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City.
But now with Mike Petke officially out of the picture after his firing late Sunday, Juarez is the head honcho with 10 games remaining in the season. The first test for the former academy and Real Monarchs coach is against a formidable Seattle Sounders team Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Juarez had served as Petke’s assistant for the last few years, however, and was often given the opportunity by the former coach to take a hands-on role with the players. That could make for a smoother transition now that Juarez will man the sidelines, especially with his role as acting head coach the last three weeks.
“Freddy’s been here since the start, for me,” forward Corey Baird said Tuesday after training. “He’s been one of the guys running a lot the sessions [and] been very involved with the team. So I don’t think much is going to change for us.”
Juarez said Monday that his style of play closely mirrors that of Petke’s. Because of that, he doesn’t anticipate changing much of what the club has been doing since January, he said. Defender Aaron Herrera said Juarez “hasn’t changed anything” in the few weeks he’s been at the helm.
Herrera added that he’s known Juarez since he was about 8 or 9 years old growing up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Juarez is also from. He also said Juarez “lives, breathes and eats soccer 24/7.”
“Back then and still today, I still think he’s one of the greatest soccer minds in this country,” Herrera said of Juarez. “I’m not trying to hype him up or anything. It’s the truth. So I’m super excited for him to have this opportunity.”
RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen described Juarez as a “very soft-spoken, deliberate and strategic coach” and a “known commodity” in an interview Monday with KUTV. He added that Juarez is “the right man at the right time.”
Juarez coached and later ran the development academy in Case Grande, Arizona, before taking the coaching job with the Monarchs. He was later elevated to assistant coach of RSL under Jeff Cassar, and remained the first assistant when Petke ascended to head coach after Cassar was fired.
Juarez said assistant coach Tyrone Marshall has taken over some of his former duties and will also share the responsibility of addressing the media. Ted Eck, who works mainly as the video coordinator, will also spend more time coaching on the field, Juarez said.
Captain Kyle Beckerman said the team “has to move on as quick as possible” from Petke’s firing. He said the players have done well staying focused despite all that’s happening around the organization.
“I think everybody in the locker room is just focused about keeping this going,” Beckerman said. “We’re in a good spot of the season, so it’s really important if we can keep this going, especially with these three home games coming up, to really make a push for the playoffs.”
REAL SALT LAKE VS SEATTLE SOUNDERS
At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
Kickoff » Wednesday, 8 p.m.
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
Last meeting » Seattle 1, RSL 0 (April 6)
Records » RSL 11-9-4 (37 points, 6th in West), Seattle 11-7-6 (39 points, 2nd in West)
About Seattle » Raúl Ruidíaz leads the team with eight goals. … Has scored only seven goals against RSL in 11 total games. … The team has the fourth-highest number of corner kicks (146) in MLS. ... Only one win in previous four games.
About RSL » First game after the firing of coach Mike Petke. … Currently on a three-game undefeated streak. … Sam Johnson and Albert Rusnák lead the team with eight goals apiece. … Jefferson Savarino leads the team with five assists. … Tied for first in the league with Philadelphia in offside calls (66).