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New York Red Bulls name Mike Petke new coach

Jan 24, 2013, 1:19 PM EST

Mike Petke

I’m feeling a little wishy-washy on today’s MLS news maker that Mike Petke is the new sheriff in town around Red Bull Arena. The team named Petke, who has a long history at the club, its newest manager this morning.

I applaud the choice because it checks an important box, the one labeled “MLS experience.”  I am on the record with my disdain for hiring figures from abroad who couldn’t spell MLS if you spotted them the “M” and the “L.”  The league’s peculiarities and unique challenges can be difficult on even the savviest tactician.

So, good on the Red Bulls new upper management for acquiescing on that one, after once appearing determined to land a manager with an accent.

But Petke’s hiring does have me leaving the table a bit hungry. Some questions keep troubling me.

Foremost, if he was their man, why take so long? Why wander through two important player personnel exercises (the MLS combine and the draft) without a solid hierarchy of leadership? Yes, I am aware that Petke was front-and-center in the combine analysis and the draft selections. But to say that he was provided carte blanche to make those choices within a larger, structural vision would seem to be walking back on the reality of the situation. Frankly, I wouldn’t buy it.

A source I trust told me earlier this week the Red Bulls really wanted Portuguese veteran manager Paulo Sousa, and were attempting to work through the visa process. Something clearly derailed that effort.

Does Petke have the experience? There are young, first-year head coaches just north and south in Ben Olsen at D.C. United and Jay Heaps at New England. Jason Kreis, who was a first-time head coach when he took over at Real Salt Lake back in 2007, is yet another contemporary. Olsen has things moving north at RFK, and Kreis’ successes cannot be questioned. So this approach clearly can work.

Then again, all three of those scenes were of the re-building variety. New York has certainly reconfigured its roster for 2013, but to call a team with Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and several other experienced, proven parts a “re-build” is a massive stretch. Truth is, this is a team that should compete for MLS Cup this year. Those other groups could absorb a learning curve in hiring a first-time head coach; the Red Bulls in 2013 cannot.

Does Petke have the confidence and the gravitas to command  a locker room where King Henry clearly rules? A wise, highly experienced man like former manager Hans Backe had issues in being able to steer the ship where he wished – so Petke’s challenge in this area seems formidable.

  1. arjanroghanchi - Jan 24, 2013 at 1:45 PM

    Isn’t it possible that although first instincts on behalf of RBNY were to bring in a proven manager, after seeing Petke navigate the offseason and handle the opening of practice that they became comfortable with him being manager?

    Roxburgh will probably play a more active role in terms of personnel than he might have otherwise.

    Find it very hard to believe that the idea hadn’t been germinating for awhile, or that it wasn’t floated by Henry.

    • wesbadia - Jan 24, 2013 at 1:57 PM

      My sentiments, too. Although I will express my concern over a possible feud between Petke and Henry as the season progresses, especially if things don’t start off with them flying high. If Henry bossed Backe around, what will he do with Petke? And if he tries that stuff, how long before Roxburgh is left with a choice between the two?

      Good thing this news sprouted now before Steve wrote his Preseason piece on NYRB. Right, Steve? ;-)

      • Steve Davis - Jan 24, 2013 at 2:11 PM

        JUST in the nick of time!

  2. orbmech - Jan 24, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    I just hope this is a case of finally realizing what they had right in front of them rather than being a stop-gap until they find someone else.

  3. mdac1012 - Jan 24, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    No coach that they could realistically bring in was going to “boss” Henry around. This is his team for as long as he is here. Henry was brought in at a time when the Red Bulls needed Henry a lot more than Henry needed the Red Bulls, and when that happens the relationship is set and its hard to change that dynamic.

    MLS is not at the point where they are going to attract a coach with the resume that trumps Henry’s.

  4. mvktr2 - Jan 25, 2013 at 10:28 PM

    I know little to nothing about Petke, most especially about his personality.

    Fact is he may actually be a stronger personality and be savvy at dealing with people be it Henry or whomever. Just throwing out the idea that he may actually be better suited to this role than the manager he’s replaced. No telling what Henry will do, and he certainly has an ego the size of Manhattan. However properly managing that relationship from the management side can go a long way in how this works. Also if Petke ‘owns/controls/LEADS’ the rest of the team Henry has little recourse in the locker room except to go along with the culture, no matter how talented he can’t swim against the cultural stream of the whole team.

    Just an idea.

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