Real Salt Lake: As RSL teeters on edge of lost season, GM Waibel says it’s time ‘to get a little uncomfortable’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (10) reacts after narrowly missing a goal on a penalty kick, in MLS action, Real Salt Lake Vs. Atlanta United, at Rio Tinto Stadium, Wednesday, April 22, 2017.

If not at rock-bottom, RSL is certainly in the vicinity as it closes in on the season’s official halfway point. RSL is 4-10-2 through 16 matches, is conceding goals at a historically bad rate, and most troubling, missing windows of opportunity to escape its dreary situation.

The latest episode, the 6-2 loss at FC Dallas, again left Mike Petke beside himself. But as he has so often, the RSL coach delivered a blunt and straightforward postgame response that went viral around MLS. Petke said he "couldn’t protect people anymore," that he has "to take the gloves off now," and the stretch of play is "blowing my mind."

RSL has allowed a league-high 35 goals in 16 games. It sits at a league-worst minus-20 goal differential after allowing 11 goals in road trips at Houston and Dallas last week. Now in the midst of a FIFA international break, Waibel, Petke and the players have gotten an opportunity to get away from the bad start, digest what has gone wrong, and why it continuously has stayed wrong.

"It’s one thing to lose," Waibel said, "it’s another thing to lose and not try. While I’m not accusing any player of not trying, there’s a level of commitment when you put this jersey on that I have to believe you have. Because ultimately, it’s my decision to make, and I’m going to have to make some tough decisions."

Waibel’s decisions will come during the summer transfer window, which opens July 10. No movement is allowed within MLS for the next four weeks, but it seems Waibel has seen enough. The GM said RSL will make one roster move for certain this summer — and likely more.

"Any time you’re a struggling team," Waibel said, "you know change is inevitable."

It could come organically, too. RSL welcomes back four players who represented the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup in South Korea this week, and Waibel said he expects injured players David Horst, Jordan Allen and Demar Phillips all will be in training within the next week. Waibel did note this is RSL’s first full transfer window with Petke as coach and, after the early coaching change, a rash of injuries and poor performances, this could be a key month for RSL’s long-term future under Petke.

"We haven’t given Mike the freedom to select the players that he believes in," Waibel said.

Petke’s explanation of the state of RSL after the disaster in Texas has been measured. It was a controlled tirade from a coach who wants more out of the players. He went as far to say he was "appalled by certain things" discussed going into a game and not being utilized during play.

"That tells me one of two things: either they’re not listening or they’re not good enough," Petke said. "I’ve never been a part of something like this."

Not since RSL’s earliest days have those around the club seen things go this bad. For context’s sake, RSL has allowed 35 goals in 16 matches; in 2012, 2010 and 2009, it went the entire season conceding 35 goals or fewer.

RSL went to Texas and got squashed after winning two out of three, confirming Petke’s warning that RSL still has a long way to go.

"Every player plays a little better on a daily basis when they know someone is behind them ready to take their job," Waibel said. "And as much as we all want to believe we go to work every day doing our absolute best acting as if someone is pushing us, I’m sure everyone when they look in the mirror probably has one or two days that they didn’t do that."

RSL is at a crossroads. The injuries are waning, performances have been subpar and something needs to change to arrest what looks like a free fall.

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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (10) reacts after narrowly missing a goal on a penalty kick, in MLS action, Real Salt Lake Vs. Atlanta United, at Rio Tinto Stadium, Wednesday, April 22, 2017.

Real Salt Lake » Club has allowed more goals in first half than some previous RSL teams gave up in entire seasons.

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"My job is to watch out for this club," Waibel said, "and lately we’ve seen enough that it’s frustrating everyone and I have to put pressure on these players rather than coddling and making them as comfortable as they’ve been. It’s time to get a little uncomfortable."

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