SANDY, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Real Salt Lake is playing its best soccer of the season right now, but they are also dealing with a coaching change.
Mike Petke was fired Sunday after berating an official with offensive, and some say homophobic language following the team’s July 24th loss to Tigres UANL.
Petke was originally suspended for three games and fined $25,000, so captain Kyle Beckerman was caught off guard by the news Petke was fired.
“I was surprised,” Beckerman said. “I thought the punishment came down and that was final. We feel for Mike and his family. I don’t believe Mike is a homophobe at all. I think he just lost his cool.”
“Everyone here, we all know who Mike is,” said defender Aaron Herrera. “We all know who he is as a person. He’s definitely a very passionate guy, and I think at the end of the day, his temper got away from him.”
“Mike is a great human being,” said Freddy Juarez, who will be the team’s head coach for the rest of the season. “I know him personally, and right away he was like, shoot, this is something I shouldn’t have done.”
So the team now moves on with Juarez calling the shots. During Petke’s 3-game suspension, Juarez led RSL to a 2-0-1 record. He said he is grateful for the opportunity, but this is not how he imagined it would come.
“It’s not the way I would have liked,” Juarez said. “Mike is a good friend, mentor, and helped me out. He gave a lot of confidence in me. The message to the guys is I’m not inheriting a team. I was part of a team that has been on the climb.”
“Freddy has been here since the start for me,” said forward Corey Baird, who scored two goals in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sporting KC. “He’s been one of the guys who has 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 for us.”
While the fan base may be split on the decision to fire Petke, the RSL locker room is in good shape.
“The locker room has been great,” Herrera said. “It’s not only now that we’re winning. Obviously, it’s definitely going to be a little better right now that we’re winning.”
Real Salt Lake is 5-1-3 since the Gold Cup break in June, and has a chance to move up further in the Western Conference Standings this week with home games against Seattle and LAFC.
“We’re at a point where this is the business end of the season,” Beckerman said. “We have to turn the page real quick.”