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Sandy • Mike Petke passed what he perceived to be his biggest challenge Tuesday morning. Real Salt Lake's new coach sat down his team inside Rio Tinto Stadium and showed the roster, in detail, who he is as a coach, what he believes in and how he wants to play.
Petke, in his first day leading a training session, put on a PowerPoint presentation for his players. And RSL's new coach felt like he got his point across in what he estimated to be about 15 slides. As the screen changed, he checked around the room, locking eyes with players. They were tuned in, he said.
"They were on board," he said. "That was my biggest challenge. From here on out, it's a game."
His era at RSL started last week. There was the introductory news conference in which he said he wants the pressure placed upon his shoulders. Inside the luxury box in Minneapolis as RSL went through another lackluster outing filled with mistakes. Petke gathered the players after the 4-2 loss and told them to take Sunday and Monday to clear their heads.
"It was as low as you could get after the Minnesota game in the locker room," midfielder Luke Mulholland said about the club's morale Saturday night.
Petke inherits a team adrift amid a lack of results and an early season firing of its former coach. So his balance, he admits, comes not only on the training field and in drills, but in building back up the team's confidence. RSL is at the bottom of the MLS standings at 0-3-2 with three goals so far this season.
"It's a tough one," captain Kyle Beckerman said. "We haven't been in this situation for a long time. It's unfamiliar territory."
Petke talked to the players about standards during Tuesday's meeting. RSL must find a way every day to set a certain standard for itself on the pitch. And the next day, Petke wants them to one-up the one from the day prior.
Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas said the Petke hire at RSL was a logical move. Lalas believes Petke will be stronger in his second go as an MLS coach, having guided the New York Red Bulls to back-to-back decorated seasons, a major trophy and Eastern Conference final appearances. But Lalas also warned of the trials of adapting to change.
He pointed to former RSL coach Jason Kreis as a prime example. After his RSL exit in 2013, Kreis was fired after one season at New York City FC before taking some time off and eventually getting back into the coaching ranks with Orlando City last summer.
"Once you get out of an environment where you're comfortable, where you've achieved success, where you can anticipate things," Lalas said, "sometimes it gets a little more difficult."
Petke might be sorting out a new comfort zone in Salt Lake, but it's nothing compared to his time with the Red Bulls, the hometown organization the Long Island native came up with, supported, played for and eventually coached to a Supporters' Shield title in 2013.
"[I'm] just laying a foundation on top of a foundation that's already been laid," he said after Tuesday's training session.
How it shakes out the rest of Petke's first official week on the job is unknown. A telling sign could be potential changes to his first starting lineup as coach Saturday at home against Vancouver. Or it could feature small tweaks as he's vowed since his hiring last Wednesday.
Mulholland said RSL's been offered a clean, early slate.
The RSL midfielder in his fourth year at the club said Petke, "doesn't care whether it's your first year or 11th year in the league."
"The past three years we've just underachieved slightly, and I feel like we need to just raise that bar again [by] bringing in ... new blood and to get that buzz going around the city again and have everyone buy into it again," Mulholland added. "I'm excited for it, to be honest."
Petke certainly qualifies as new blood. When does the real infusion begin? Each day will offer hints.
"There is an opportunity there for someone to come in and be the savior, to heal and to resurrect what RSL once was," Lalas said.
Vancouver at RSL
P Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV • KMYU