SANDY, Utah – As the shock of Real Salt Lake Mike Petke’s departure as head coach has worn off, the players haven’t noticed a difference except for the absence of their former coach.
“It’s unfortunate,” forward Corey Baird said. “I think it’s nothing anyone was super happy about. It happens with a lot of teams. Coaches come and go, players come and go. It’s just part of the game and something you have to play through.”
The move came as a surprise to some, but the continuity of Freddy Juarez has kept the team focused and still playing at a high level, all despite some tumult behind the scenes. RSL has won back-to-back games and are unbeaten in five.
“I was surprised,” captain Kyle Beckerman said of Petke’s dismissal. “I thought the punishment came down and that was final, so I was a bit surprised. We’re at the point that it’s the business end of the season and we have to turn the page real quick. We all feel for Mike. He was family. He just lost his cool and we have to move on as quickly as possible.”
Petke was suspended for two weeks without pay and suspended for three MLS games following crude language towards the referees after the club’s Leagues Cup game against Tigres UANL. He met with the team once, but then wasn’t allowed to talk with the players or his staff, something they all seem to be looking forward to.
“We haven’t talked yet. We will,” Juarez, the interim head coach, said. “He’s definitely someone I’m going to reach out to and he’s going to be someone who continues to stay in touch.”
While the reactions to Petke’s firing were all pretty similar, so was the excitement to have Juarez at the helm.
“We’re all super excited for Freddy,” outside back Aaron Herrera said. “I grew up with Freddy. I’ve know Freddy since I was 8, 9 years old. He’s one of the greatest soccer minds in the country.
“When my dad found out, he was super pumped about it because he’s known Freddy since way before me. Freddy’s family is one of the big soccer families and ran the club in Las Cruces, [New Mexico].”
The day-to-day change are expected to be minor.
“Freddy’s been here since the start for me,” said Baird, the 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year. “He’s been running a lot of the sessions. He’s been very involved with the team, so I don’t think much is going to change.”