Real Salt Lake feeling benefits of focusing a bit more on its play when preparing for opponents

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake defender Aaron Herrera (22) and Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio (21) as Real Salt Lake hosts Toronto FC, MLS Soccer at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday May 18, 2019.

Sandy • During the three weeks that Real Salt Lake had a break from Major League Soccer competition, coach Mike Petke implemented a slight change in how the team prepares for games week to week. He said he wanted to focus more on how his own team plays and a less on the copious research involved in scouting an opponent.

Since Petke announced the change, RSL has earned four points in its last two games — a road draw with the Chicago Fire and a home win over Sporting Kansas City. It’s not the largest of sample sizes, but the club is already starting to feel the difference on the field.

“We’re trying to focus on ourselves and anytime we’re in a tough position, us as a team we always know where to be for one another and then apply it to the game,” defender Aaron Herrera said Tuesday after training.

Herrera said what can happen when overpreparing for an opponent is the tendency to get a little lost on the field.

“A lot of times you can focus too much on the other team and you’re not really focusing on training yourselves for what you want to do,” defender Aaron Herrera said. “So whenever you get to the game, when you get put in certain positions you don’t necessarily know what to do.”

In Herrera’s opinion, the team did prepare too much for opponents at times. He said the players and coaching staff talked about the issue and together decided to make a change.

“I think that’s something that the players and the coaches felt mutual about,” Herrera said. “We were able to talk to them [the coaches] about it. They understood what we were saying and we understood what they were saying.”

The midweek game Wednesday against the Columbus Crew is another opportunity to implement this shift in philosophy. The Crew come to Rio Tinto Stadium with an icy 5-11-2 record and sit 11th in the Eastern Conference. But Petke balked when asked how his team could make sure it doesn’t get lured into a trap game.

“If people are getting sucked in to what a team’s going through right now,” Petke said, “well, then, they don’t deserve to be a professional athlete. It’s a nonfactor to me.”

Midfielder Albert Rusnák said preparing for the opposing team doesn’t completely fall by the wayside. But with so many games coming up on the schedule over the next two months, the team will make it a point to work in its own style of play, he said.

“We want to concentrate on us and have a certain style that we’re going to play and opposition is going to be preparing for us and not so much we’re going to be preparing for them,” Rusnák said. “Especially here at home, the concentration is definitely a lot more on us as opposed to when we play on [the] road.”

Forward Sebastian Saucedo highlighted the reasons why it makes sense to pay close attention to what the opposing sides brings to the pitch. At the same time, he expressed his belief in RSL as a viable club.

“Our team’s special enough that I think other teams worry about us, too,” Saucedo said.

Rusnák said he “sometimes” felt Salt Lake focused too much on opposing teams, but pointed out that the sentiment is different when teams or lose. All in all, he does not think RSL’s position in the standings is correlated with not focusing on the team’s own style of play.

“I wouldn’t say that was the cause [of] us not maybe collecting more points,” Rusnák said.


At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah

Kickoff » Wednesday, 8 p.m.


Radio » 700 AM

Last meeting » Columbus 2, RSL 1 (June. 30, 2018)

Records » RSL 7-8-2, Columbus 5-11-2

About Columbus » Crew have lost five of the last six games. … Concedes an average of 1.5 goals per game on the road. … David Accam, Federico Higuain, Milton Valenzuela and Josh Williams are all out due to injury. … Gyasi Zardes leads the team with six goals.

About RSL » Sam Johnson leads the team with seven goals; Albert Rusnák has six. … Will play seven of the next 10 games at home. … Team has not beaten Columbus in their last five meetings (2D, 3L). … Coach Mike Petke said he will make two or three changes to the lineup. … Kyle Beckerman will not play due to yellow card accumulation.