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Sandy • Mike Petke's pregame speeches traditionally range anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. It's there Real Salt Lake's head coach goes over the finer points of what he wants his team to execute tactically, to implement to throw off an opponent, to put to good use.
The pregame speech Wednesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium lasted an estimated three-to-four minutes tops, Petke said.
He shut off his PowerPoint presentation and leveled with his players. RSL was on the wrong side of a four-game skid, the longest losing streak in six years at the club. Petke did, just as he's done in the nearly two months since taking over at the helm, challenged his team to rise to the occasion.
"Owning your job, owning your passion, wanting to be out there, wanting to do anything that it takes to win," Petke recalled of his speech.
RSL showed it. Even after once again going down early, RSL battled through another shaky start to snap the streak in a frigid midweek match-up against visiting New York City FC. The 2-1 win over NYCFC was RSL's first in a month. The response to allowing a goal within the first 10 minutes of a match for the fourth time in the last fifth outings was exactly what was needed.
"We've been fighting and wanting this win," goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "The last four games have been rough for us. We've been putting in the work, so the work showed today. Even though we went down 1-0, I think you saw the pride that we took."
Needing a lifeline at home, RSL was rescued by its 22-year-old attacking midfielder. A day before Albert Rusnák scored his third goal of the year and later notched his fourth assist, the playmaker told the media that he felt the pressure to be the rallying point RSL's lacked in recent weeks. So down 1-0 after a fourth-minute goal by NYCFC's Sean Okoli, Rusnák took ownership.
The Slovakian midfielder tagged a left-footed shot from 22 yards away that swerved away from NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson to pull RSL level 1-1 in the 38th minute. The fans braving the freezing elements let out a roar, which doubled as a sigh of relief. Rusnák's goal snapped a 329-minute scoreless streak - the fifth-longest such streak in RSL history.
"I had to step up this game," he said.
Six minutes into the second half, a corner kick from Rusnák found the head of defender Aaron Maund. Despite being ensnared with a bear hug by NYCFC's Miguel Camargo, Maund headed the ball into the back of the net to give RSL a 2-1 lead in the 51st minute. Maund's goal provided RSL with its first lead in a game since April 15.
"The ball was kind of put on a platter," Maund said. "Just kind of put my head on it. Pretty simple stuff."
An RSL back line still depleted due to injury fended off NYCFC stars David Villa and Jack Harrison after both came on as second-half substitutes. Rusnák's splendid night stood up. Newcomer Jefferson Savarino proved to be a pest in his first start at RSL, setting up Rusnák's first goal. The RSL playmaker wasn't wrong in forecasting what he had to do in order for RSL to walk off its home field with three points in the bag.
"I still say it: I don't think we've seen close to what [Rusnák] could become in this league," Petke said. "I still think he's in that transition period coming over from Europe to Major League Soccer, but he's a special player."