Can New York soccer legend lead Red Bulls to MLS Cup as manager?by Fabian Ardaya on Mar. 03, 2013, under sports
PLEASE NOTE: The following article was written by freelance writer Nick Cole, assisted and edited by TC Arizona Sports editor Tony Capobianco.
Preseason can mean different things for different clubs.
For some, it’s seeing who fits into the team or which youngsters might be ready to make the jump into the first team from the reserves or the academy. For others, it might be figuring out how to operate in a new tactical scheme due to the arrival of a new coach or the overhaul of the club’s roster.
For the teams that made deep-post season runs last term, it’s about continuing where they left off, getting back into shape and making the little changes that teams need to make in order to stay on top.
For a small group of clubs though, it’s about dealing with expectations and going from a team of contenders into a team who can realistically win a championship.
Enter the 2013 New York Red Bulls, who after making a Quarterfinal run in the 2012 MLS Cup, are looking to make a title bid this season.
After parting ways with manager Hans Backe and a host of players, most notably ex-Barcelona center half Rafa Maquez and ex-FC Dallas and 1860 Munich striker Kenny Cooper, among others, the Red Bulls have reloaded and upped the ante by putting Backe’s assistant Mike Petke (who made over 100 appearances for the club) in the hotseat. The hoopla surrounding striker Thierry Henry’s first full season has died down, allowing the Frenchman to knuckle down in his second season and produce for the club.
Also making his foray into MLS is Juninho, the Brazilian midfielder who was known as a free-kick wizard for the countless jaw dropping free kicks he scored while spending seven title-winning seasons at French powerhouse Olympique Lyons. Ex-Real Salt Lake hitman Fabian Espindola has also came into the fold and will look to bring a few goals with him.
Needless to say, if new Red Bulls manager Mike Petke is going to succeed this term, he will have serious some firepower to do it with.
The pressure on former New York soccer legend is just starting to pile on.
“I’m a first year coach,” Petke said during an interview after their pre-season friendly with Seattle in Tucson’s Desert Diamond Cup, “zero head coaching experience on the biggest, arguably the most high profile team in the league is incredible pressure on me. But none of it compares to the pressure I put on myself. I thrive on pressure. Whether that means winning or losing, I feel my most alive in under pressure situations. As a player I loved it and now as a coach I love it.”
There most certainly is pressure, but some of the elder, more experienced players in the side such as Austrailian soccer legend Tim Cahill and Henry will look to aid the first-year coach in coping with the daily rigors of management.
Stepping out of Backe’s shadow is a huge step forward in the career of Petke, who will be inevitably compared with the other first-year manager in MLS, Portland’s Caleb Porter who comes into the fold with a massive CV which included a stint as the coach of the US men’s U-23 side.
However, a manager placing pressure on himself is a tactic known in the football world, generally employed by those who are in charge of teams that have a large media following, in order to keep the pressure off the team (Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho has perfected this to a T).
Although Petke’s appointment has been seen as a positive move from both the playing staff and the club’s fans, he’s also not getting ahead of himself, acknowledging the difficult and challenging road that lies in front of him at such a big club.
“It’s an honor and a privilege and a dream come true,” he said, “but it’s taxing sometimes my friend. You care so much about it and you want it to be perfect the whole time and that’s not life.”
On top of continuing on with the good form the season ended on, Petke’s other responsibility will be making sure the Red Bulls play an attractive, attacking game this season.
Despite having a top-class stadium, a world-cup-winning striker and a good previous season to build upon, there is some concern among the club’s brass that there can be more done to put butts in the seats, as the Red Bulls didn’t have particularly good attendance records last season.
This doesn’t phase Petke, though, instead talking about how he noticed the same folks in the stands as a player that still come out every week and how that group matters most to him
“I don’t look at how many people are there,” he said. “I kinda look at who’s there and those are the die-hards and those are the loyal supporters and those are the ones that are gonna have as much to gain from us winning as the players are.”
He then went on to speak on how that group of supporters means the most to him because they were supporting him as a player, and that the fact that they still come out each week to support the club means tons to the players and the coaching staff.
If the Red Bulls were to win the MLS Cup, which we are projecting, it would be extremely fitting for someone who was so beloved in New York as a player to lead the team to victory as a first-year manager.