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New York Red Bulls name Mike Petke new coach

Jan 24, 2013, 1:19 PM EDT

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.

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