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Monson: No snow job — Real Salt Lake skates to victory for the first time in eight months

Published April 8, 2017 11:21 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy

Mike Petke had said all the right things, most of them, anyway.

He had shanked a couple of verbal shots off into the tall grass, sure, saying stuff like Saturday night's game against Vancouver — his first as Real Salt Lake's head coach — didn't mean anything. Not a single thing. He was more into the process. That was a dumb notion to slide out there. It was an MLS game, after all, a game that did matter. It didn't mean everything, but it did at least mean something, even within the context of the onset of change.



He also had compared RSL's offense to a caged animal. What … a caged bunny? A caged hamster? A caged chinchilla? No … turned out, it was a caged penguin, no … a caged polar bear, with teeth and claws.

Petke got much more than patient progression on Saturday night, as his team whipped the Whitecaps in a whiteout, 3-0, at Rio Tinto Stadium, a place that was transformed by a wicked spring blizzard into … a mix of Lambeau Freakin' Field and the polar ice cap.

"These conditions were the craziest I've ever played in," Real midfielder Albert Rusnák said, afterward. Added Petke: "My toes are frozen."

Weather notwithstanding, on the whole, the new coach's talk since taking over RSL had been pretty on-point. He said he expected his guys to play with aggression, with intensity and intelligence, with flow and accountability, with passion and purpose, with fortitude and diligence. He stressed, in so many words, that there was a new sheriff in town, that he wouldn't be hanging out with or buddying up to his players, and that there was work to do, lumber to haul, dirt to plow … um, snow to shovel.

If he can instill all of that in a side that hadn't won a game since last summer, and that currently was languishing near the bottom of MLS standings, the remnants of a proud Western franchise that had seen better days, whatever the timeline, an evolution would be just as useful as a revolution.

Call it tweaking or transcending, that project commenced against Vancouver on the snow-packed pitch, with a wind-chill that screamed hurt and harm. And what the frigid folks on hand saw was a lot of what Petke had underscored.

RSL was more aggressive. The players were more energized, looking as though they really were trying to win not just a game, at long last, but also the approval of their coach. Through the first half, Real dominated the ball, creating numerous scoring chances. Joao Plata had opportunities, as did Rusnák and Yura Movsisyan … and, still, the goal would not be filled.

Petke had said he wanted his guys to win the ball higher up the field, and they did exactly that, again and again and again - to no numerical avail. But spirits seemed high, nonetheless. As the second half started, you had to wonder if at some point all the unrewarded aggression would lead to frustration, especially in conditions that simply were not meant for Pele's game. They were meant for the Iditarod. The grounds crew at Rio Tinto broke out shovels to clear strategically important areas on the pitch.

This was Soccer in a Snowstorm.

Men in shorts should not have been participating in this. Officials went to orange balls in the second half so players and other humans could actually see them against all the white. Most of the crowd was gone before the game was over, and nobody would have blamed the players had they left, too.

But RSL showed resolve in the tough conditions, their aggressive play finally hitting pay dirt — in this case, pay ice, when Rusnák skated down the field and cleverly slap-shotted the puck into the goal for a 1-nil lead. Movsisyan added another goal in the 74th minute. Luke Mulholland added another.

It was an avalanche of scoring.

That's the way it stayed, that's the way it ended.

"The first half was very positive," Petke said. "The second half was all about grit and heart."

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.

 

 

 

 

 

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