Bill Riley: A 'hat trick' of thoughts on Real Salt Lake and Dallas

Bill Riley: A 'hat trick' of thoughts on Real Salt Lake and Dallas

(Ravell Call, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Real Salt Lake played its third match in the last seven days Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.

After looking flat in Columbus last Saturday night, Mike Petke's team bounced back nicely with back-to-back home wins over the West's best two teams, Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas. The latter came Saturday night courtesy of a game in which RSL was the better team for just about the entirety of the match.

Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak celebrated his 23rd birthday by doing something he failed to do on Wednesday night: he finished from the spot. Rusnak's penalty kick in the 11th minute turned out to be the game winner. Luis Silva stuck the dagger in Dallas with a stoppage-time goal to complete the task at 2-0.

RSL now sits firmly in 4th place in the West, with 29 points and a better stretch of games coming up. They won't play a playoff caliber team for more than a month.

Here's a Hat Trick of My Thoughts and observations from the booth.

1. Savarino is the "Heartbeat" — Jefferson Savarino, for a second consecutive match, got my Man of the Match honor Saturday night. He didn't tally a goal, but did set up the Silva goal in stoppage time. Savarino's contributions went far beyond the score sheet on Saturday. The 21-year-old Venezuelan striker showed a motor that would not quit.

His vision and creativity both on and off the ball have been a driving force with the Real Salt Lake attack. For many years, Real Salt Lake's offensive success rose and fell with the play of Javier Morales. Much the same way Morales was a playmaker, so is Savarino. Much the same way Morales was targeted by opposing teams, so is Savarino. There was a time when I thought that the RSL attack needed Rusnak to drive it; I now think that it's Savarino who is the heart of the attack.

2. Petke Pushing the Right Buttons — It's not easy to negotiate three matches in seven days at any time of the season, but to have to do it in 90-plus-degree weather and against quality competition adds another level to it. It's up to the head coach to make the selections and find the right combination of players he can count on to give him max effort, and then pick the right time to insert subs.

Petke did a masterful job in both home wins this week. Finding the Best Eleven is usually pretty easy, but then moving them in and out with multiple matches is something totally different. Petke and his staff are well dialed in right now with who will give them their best and for how long, which is critical in this stretch of the Major League Soccer season.

Just as an example was the decision to bring captain Kyle Beckerman off the bench on Wednesday night, and bring Sunny off the bench on Saturday night, after playing well on Wednesday as a starter. Not starting your captain in any sport and at any level is a gutsy decision, but Petke's players have bought into his vision and it's paying off.

3. Home is Where the Points Are — Real Salt Lake has 29 points this season, good enough for fourth place in the West. Of those, 25 have come at Rio Tinto Stadium, where RSL is (8-1-1). Only four points have come on the road this season, where Real is (1-7-1).

It doesn't matter the sport or level at which you play, everyone plays better at home. What separates the average from the good or the good from the great, is the ability to find positive results away from home. Two of Real Salt Lake's next three matches are on the road against Minnesota and San Jose, both teams below the playoff line right now.

It's time for Petke's team to find some points away from Sandy. It could be the difference between being a just a playoff team or a team that might contend in the West.

You can catch my next Broadcast on Tuesday night when Real Salt Lake hosts Eintracht Frankfurt in an international exhibition match. It will kickoff at 8pm on ESPN 700.

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