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Did Mike Petke think making this gigantic U-turn at Real Salt Lake would be this difficult?
The RSL coach was asked the exact question point-blank on last night's postgame broadcast following the fourth-straight loss, this time suffering a 4-0 thumping at the hands of the New England Revolution in Foxborough, Mass.
Petke didn't hesitate.
"Probably not this difficult, to be honest with you," he said, "but I knew that we would have to go down to get back up. I knew that."
RSL is down, and the stumble continues.
RSL (2-7-2, eight points) is in the midst of a four-game skid now, a stretch in which it has conceded 13 goals and scored just one. For the third consecutive outing, RSL failed to score. The club is currently riding a 291-minute scoreless streak as it attempts to pick up the pieces in a quick turnaround for a Wednesday home match against New York City FC.
And the busy May schedule doesn't relent. After taking on NYCFC, RSL heads to Seattle for a Saturday afternoon match-up against the defending MLS Cup champs at CenturyLink Field. The 4-0 loss at New England extended RSL's winless streak (0-13-5) on artificial turf to 18, which will feature another stiff test in the Emerald City next weekend.
"There was some good things I saw," Petke said, "but it's hard to say that after losing 4-0."
Down six players to injury and four more to the U.S. U-20 World Cup roster, Petke and the coaching staff were forced to put out a new-look lineup with three games in a week. Implemented for the first time since May 2015 was a four-man midfield diamond formation, with four players making their first starts of the season. Even with a shuffled formation, the same issues persisted.
The game-changing mistakes that have continuously put RSL behind the eight-ball were repeated against the Revolution. For the third time in this four-game winning streak, RSL conceded the opening goal within the first 10 minutes of the match.
"It's clearly not the game plan," RSL veteran Chris Wingert said. "It's not what we're trying to do, but unfortunately it's been a recipe for disaster the last few weeks."
The result in New England aside, RSL will need its young, untested players to respond as the absentee list remains lengthy.
"We're going to need them all the way through and I think they're learning that right away," Wingert said. "We're going to need to count on each and every guy not the roster and make sure they're ready when called upon to make sure we can turn this thing around."
Through 11 matches, RSL has allowed 22 goals. Conversely, it has scored only nine, tied for the second-lowest output in Major League Soccer. RSL is also on the wrong side of club history, allowing more than three goals in four straight games for the first time ever.
"[It] just seems that every team over the last couple of weeks comes down into our end, they're more likely to score," Petke said. "That's a problem."
It's a problem Petke and his players have to repair and soon. The longest losing streak at RSL since 2011 continues into this week, with two stacked teams wanting nothing more than to hang a couple more losses onto RSL.
"True character comes out of adversity," Wingert said, "and we're clearly going through a rough patch right now."