SANDY — Real Salt Lake probably needed a break in the past few weeks, so the start of group play of the CONCACAF Gold Cup came at a good time.
“Going to Montreal and New York was a tough week, playing Wednesday and Saturday,” RSL forward Bofo Saucedo said. “I think players get tired of that. It’s a very tough thing to do, to go away from home and play two away games.
“Everyone took advantage of the days off, and everyone on the national teams did the same thing. Now we have to look forward to midseason, and we need to get at it. This is the most important thing … we have to make the playoffs. This is where we see what type of character RSL has.”
Real Salt Lake (6-8-1) will be without Jefferson Savarino, who is with the Venezuelan national team.
But they return Saucedo, Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon and Aaron Herrera after the quartet spent time with former RSL coach Jason Kreis and the United States U-23 national team.
For the rest of the club, it was a long layoff — even with a fourth-round U.S. Open Cup game, a 3-0 loss to LAFC, in the middle of the break.
“This was a first for me,” said defender Nedum Onuoha, who spent most of his career in England. “I’m not really used to it, especially in the middle of summer.
“You just try to work on your body, clear your mind, and refocus. It can be a really long season at times, and you can get caught up in that bubble. Time off helps you remember that there’s a whole other world out there.”
Maybe it was the right time for a break, too. Real Salt Lake entered the Gold Cup layoff having lost back-to-back road matches at Montreal and New York. LAFC added to their woes with the win over a mostly depleted team in the Open Cup, so there is plenty of reason to hope for a fresh start against the Fire — a club that has lost four of its last five against RSL.
RSL coach Mike Petke used part of the break to take a step aside from the daily rigors of the club, completing a mandatory coaching license course in Minneapolis through U.S. Soccer, (the same one that caused him to miss the Open Cup match, coincidentally). So it was easy for him to get back to work, and he relied on his sport science department to help the players ease back into the routine of the MLS regular season.
Those training sessions barely took a look at the upcoming stretch, which apart from Chicago also includes Sporting Kansas City, Columbus and San Jose. It was a chance for RSL to focus on themselves, to force other teams to adapt to their style of play — something Petke said they haven’t always done so well in 2019.
“Yes, we’re focused on Chicago. But I wanted to focus on ourselves at least just as much, if not a little bit more,” Petke said. “We want to start making teams adapt to us as much as possible. That’s what we discussed this week.”
Real Salt Lake (6-8-1) at Chicago Fire (4-6-6)
When: June 22, 6 p.m. MDT
Where: SeatGeek Stadium
Streaming: KSL.com (local), ESPN+ (national)