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New York Red Bulls Should Have Doubled Down On Mike Petke, Not Fired Him

Mike Petke

Mike Petke got out with his sanity intact. That’s a remarkable achievement, considering the club he worked so long and so hard for.

Of course because he is Petke, with a thick New York accent, almost three hundred games played and coached for the MetroStars and Red Bulls, a young family and local roots bridging a deeply and fractured club together through different incarnations and torments, getting fired was the only way he would ever leave.

After bringing the New York franchise their first ever piece of silverware with the 2013 Supporters’ Shield, Petke was close to losing his job this summer before engineering a turnaround with the 2014 Red Bulls that brought the team within an inch of MLS Cup.

After that, and the years of losing and unmet expectations that preceded him, the New York Red Bulls announced today that he has been fired.

A different manager might have walked away months ago, or certainly at the end of this last year.

Petke’s chief proponent at the club, Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh, announced his resignation just as reports flooded out of Europe that Red Bull was set to dial back its commitment in its American soccer team.

With Thierry Henry’s retirement, sparse resources, even sparser support, and a bleak outlook for the future, November was a perfect time for Petke to leave the club.

But that’s not what Petke did. Instead, he dug in for a rebuilding process, not knowing who would replace Roxburgh or whether Red Bull management was looking for the right moment to fire him anyway.

It took new Sporting Director Ali Curtis fifteen days on the job to pull the trigger, and as a final indignity, the story of Petke’s ouster was broken at midnight and confirmed before Noon today.

Apparently, according to Jeff Carlisle, New York had prepared for the move by talking to Bruce Arena about the job, and inquiring about the availability of Portland’s Caleb Porter and Columbus’ Gregg Berhalter – two of the hottest young coaching talents in the league.

It’d just be plain funny that the Red Bulls were trying to talk to three of the best coaches in MLS, but that they were doing it before Christmas when Petke was still in charge is insulting.

Now, possibly more than at any time before, the Red Bulls need to band together. They’re facing a very real threat from New York City FC in their own backyard, wavering support from ownership, and a weakening team.

Doubling down on people like Petke – a young, charismatic manager who is universally beloved by fans – should be a no-brainer.

Instead, Petke is gone today, and the Red Bulls’ best pitch prospective supporters centers around the fact that Frank Lampard isn’t coming to NYC until July.

Petke, who had been through so much with the New York franchise, got Metroed.

Season ticket holders should be outraged. They should be incensed. Not just because Petke was a successful manager, but because he got stabbed in the back for no good reason.

We’ve seen this movie before. We’ve seen the Red Bulls fire Bob Bradley, and then Bruce Arena, not realizing that you don’t get unlimited chances to land a manager you want to stick around for more than two years.

The new boss, Jesse Marsch, has one year of MLS head coaching experience. Marsch should know something about unjust firings – he was canned by Montreal after the Impact’s successful expansion season turned sour after clashes with management.

Marsch is well thought of in American soccer circles, but he comes into this job knowing that he was, at best, New York’s fourth choice and doing little more than praying that there will be any club left to coach by the time the outrage from Petke’s firing settles.

It seems like an impossible job.

Some clubs just can’t help themselves. The Red Bulls had more than ten years to establish themselves as the one of the premier teams in MLS. They were the only big-market team in the Eastern Conference, and they were willing to spend.

In those years, Petke was the best thing the Red Bulls stumbled upon. His loyalty to the fans, respect for the club’s tradition, and understanding of what winning at Red Bull Arena meant, was unmatched – maybe by any MLS coach with their respective club.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that stability breeds success. The teams that are the class of the league like Seattle and LA have long-time coaches. Real Salt Lake, who lost their coach, promoted his assistant and stayed on course.

Clubs with owners who know what they’re doing – like Merritt Paulson in Portland and Anthony Precourt in Columbus – have found managers with vision and will let them grow over the next decade.

The Red Bulls have contrived to squander almost every advantage they’ve had.

In Mike Petke, they got a coach who truly revived Thierry Henry’s career and got silverware out him while building a team that valued continuity and chemistry – you know, all the things no one would ever expect from the Red Bulls franchise.

Winning in MLS isn’t particularly hard – with a majority of teams in the league making the playoffs, and the salary cap making the playing field more or less level, it just takes smart management and a little talent.

Marsch could, conceivably, win in New York. But at some point, franchises get reputations they can’t shake. In firing Mike Petke, the Red Bulls have removed part of their soul. In fact, in Harrison, there’s little soul left.

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  1. Mysterious J

    January 7, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    I am still scratching my head over this. Maybe they are trying to compete for the title of most hated NY area team?

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