SANDY—After missing the playoffs by a single point on Sunday, Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke conducted his final press conference of the season with the kind of self-reflection that can only come from disappointment.
The 41-year-old Petke spoke at length on a variety of topics, ranging from the team’s future and the sliding scale of success to offseason travel plans and even “Mormon culture." And yet his most interesting reveal came in the form of a confession.
“I feel that if I would have managed a couple of those games in the dog days of summer a bit better, maybe we would have pulled out two or three ties instead of losses,” Petke admitted of his rookie season, which began after the sudden dismissal of Jeff Cassar in March.
Having lost only three games since July 4, disappointment and regret colored much of the commentary from RSL, which now enters the offseason with more questions than answers.
Among the most pressing questions will be how they handle their personnel. Heading into the offseason, RSL faces major decisions with several key players, including team legends Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, who, after playing through contract years this season, are now set to enter free agency.
As cornerstones of RSL for nearly a decade, the duo has outlasted significant organizational and roster change during their tenures with the club. In fact, since winning the franchise’s lone MLS Cup in 2009, the pair represents half of the club’s holdovers from that team, alongside Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran.
Their loyalty to the franchise has not gone unnoticed. In what was a warm moment in an otherwise icy afternoon, Petke and Beckerman joined for a final conversation on the field in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s game. When asked what was said during that conversation, Petke joked, “I told him I wanted him to cut his hair for the preseason and come back and be a new man.”
He went on to praise both Beckerman and Rimando, saying that he believes that RSL will one day erect a pair of statues outside of Rio Tinto Stadium to commemorate the duo.
But in the short-term, the corporate knowledge that comes from the duo’s veteran leadership stands in peril. Rimando, for his part, said he hopes to return to the team next season.
“I would love to (return to the team next season),” Rimando said. “The good thing is talks are happening now. Communication with my representatives and Real have started, so that’s a good thing, for sure.
“I’ve got a lot of roots here. Real has something that we’ve been rebuilding since some average years after some players left and now you can see we’re on the rise again.”
In addition to negotiating with its franchise pillars, RSL will also aim to lock up its young talent this offseason as both Jefferson Savarino and Brooks Lennon were on loan for the 2017 season. Savarino, who joined the team in May from Venezuelan club Zulia FC, booted in five goals and six assists this season, while Lennon, on loan from Liverpool since February, contributed three goals and as many assists.
RSL has started negotiations with Lennon’s representatives ahead of the coming offseason, according to a recent report from Maddie Lee of the Salt Lake Tribune. Lennon, who scored in RSL’s season-ending win over Sporting Kansas City Sunday, spoke as if he expected to be back with the team during Sunday’s postgame press conference.
When asked if his goal had given him any additional motivation in how he’ll prepare during the offseason, Lennon responded, “Definitley. Scoring a goal today was good for me and I’m happy to end the season that way with a goal. And yeah, it’s just motivation to go back next year and score more goals and I think I can do that. It just starts with hard work in the preseason.”