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Sandy • Omar Holness walked back through the maze of Real Salt Lake's locker room, past the weights and exercise equipment, to the very back door where coach Mike Petke sat at his desk.
It was there that the 23-year-old Jamaican midfielder asked his coach less than two weeks ago what he needed to do to earn more minutes for a RSL group depleted by injuries.
"My answer to him and he gets it is that he needs to be better than what's in front of him right now consistently," Petke recently said. "Not equal to. He needs to be better."
Holness, RSL's No. 5 overall pick from the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, stood there as Petke told him he needs to show it every day. Petke told the North Carolina product that every training session needs to be "the final tryout for the World Cup team."
"He has the talent, he has the tools and he needs to raise his game as far as an effort level and as far the eagerness level," Petke said. "He needs to be eager. He needs to want it."
The waiting game hasn't been easy. Yet he finally was rewarded last weekend, earning his first start of 2017 in an eventual 4-0 road loss at New England. RSL's depth chart remains in shambles as players continue to work back from injuries. Couple that with the four players lost to the U.S. U-20 World Cup squad, and available numbers are way below the comfort zone for Petke and Co.
Which is why Holness understands his role is that much more crucial now. Circumstances demand a rise from a promising second-year player in search of consistent appearances and performance. Holness scored a goal while playing for Real Monarchs earlier this season. That was before the midfield was hit with the injury bug.
"At this point in time, I just want to do anything I can right now any and everything to just get back out on the field," he said.
Tyrone Marshall understands the rigors of balancing pushing veterans, impressing the coaches and seeing it all paid off with a start. The RSL assistant coach said he purposefully tries to motivate young players like Holness to instill a larger sense of belief. The fellow Jamaican echoes Petke, telling RSL's youthful core to think of every day as potentially the final training session.
Holness "seems to start to grasp it now," Marshall said. "He's starting to buy in, which is the most important thing."
The next part of Holness' quest is finding a way to grab hold of a starting spot for an extended period of time. But that comes with beating out players he's looked up to since being drafted at RSL a year ago.
"It's just looking, asking questions, just trying to out-work them," he said. "It might be a difficult task, but I'm up for any task. Right now, as I said, it's just about working hard, trying to up that level of competitiveness in training."
Petke said in order for RSL to wiggle out of this dismal start to 2017, it needs young players to adopt a mindset of owning a position long-term, which will raise the level of every player.
"On the field, it's got to be dog-eat-dog it really does," Petke said. "Why else are you here if people are content just to have a contract and sit the bench? I don't want that. I want guys, on a daily basis, without hurting each other, I want them playing like for lack of a better term their life depends on it."
Holness understands how to wrestle and topple tribulation. In his professional debut with the Monarchs last March, just a few weeks removed from his 22nd birthday, he suffered an on-field seizure and missed the next two months. A rookie season that features that sort of life-changing experience only has made him stronger for the future, Holness has said since.
Marshall vows he won't miss an opportunity to put an arm around Holness and keep him grounded, to take aim at the next potential start. "Don't be satisfied," Marshall said.
That way, he won't have to make his way to coach's office in the very back, knock on the door and ask, once again, what needs to happen for him to see the field.
"Never give up," Holness said. "I've been doing that."
New York City FC at Real Salt Lake
At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff • 7 p.m.
TV • KMYU
Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 2-7-2, NYCFC 5-3-2
Last meeting • RSL 3-2 win (June 2, 2016 at Yankee Stadium)
About NYCFC • NYCFC is 0-2-0 all-time against RSL. … NYCFC's last visit to Rio Tinto Stadium resulted in a 2-0 loss in May 2015. … Captain David Villa has six goals and four assists in nine matches this season. … Former No. 1 overall draft pick Jack Harrison has four goals and two assists. … NYCFC is coming off a 1-1 road draw at FC Dallas on Sunday night. … Defender Ronald Matarrita (ankle) is out. … Former RSL midfielder John Stertzer signed with NYCFC this offseason.
About RSL • Kyle Beckerman (calf) and Nick Rimando (hamstring) are probable to return after missing the last three games with injuries. … Right back Tony Beltran (calf) is on track to return next week. … Left back Demar Phillips (hamstring) is doubtful. … RSL is riding a four-game losing streak, its longest since 2011. … RSL has a 291-minute scoreless streak spanning the last four games. … During this four-game skid, RSL has been outscored 13-1.