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Sandy • At the start of the week, Chris Wingert said Mike Petke gathered his team and told his players that just because Real Salt Lake dominated in its 3-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps last Saturday doesn't mean that RSL is suddenly out of the woods after such a trying start.
"This win does not mean that we've arrived and we're this phenomenal force now," Petke told reporters this week, "but it's a step in the right direction."
"We've still got a long way to go," Wingert said.
But Petke kept circling back to a word he reiterated must be part of the equation especially defensively if RSL is continue to wade through the ongoing rash of injuries to its back line. "Effort," Wingert said.
RSL's 1-3-2 start has been a bit all over the place with injuries, a coaching change and a new style implemented. Yet RSL has still managed to notch three shutouts in its first six outings. In 2016, RSL had six shutouts in 34 games. With defenders dropping like flies to injury, RSL is staying afloat somehow.
So far this year defenders have missed a total of 19 matches to injury through the first six weeks of the season: Justen Glad (6), David Horst (4), Tony Beltran (3), Aaron Maund (3), Chris Schuler (2) and Demar Phillips (1). It's been a series of mixing and matching center back pairings and plugging in outside backs. Wingert has already started matches at both right back and left back, but recently moved in to play center back alongside Schuler.
Left-footed Danilo Acosta was impressive in his MLS debut playing as a right back against Vancouver.
"Just because somebody's not starting throughout the week and knows it, it's still his job to pay attention, so when he's called upon he can put things into play," Petke said "I think that those guys who have been mixed in and out have done a phenomenal job of that. And then you look at what I consider the best goalie in the league, that's why I believe we've had a lot of shutouts."
RSL has started six different center back combos in its first six matches. Wingert, who has been defending in MLS since 2004, can't remember if he's ever been on a team that's had to endure this series of injuries to a specific position group.
"Will you check the archives for us?" he joked.
Which makes the three shutouts in six games all that more accomplished.
"I think those games a lot of it was just the effort and like I said just trying to work things out on the field," Wingert said. "You maybe catch a couple breaks in those games or Nick [Rimando] makes a couple unbelievable saves that we've become so accustomed to, which is probably unfair to him. I think it's something to build upon."