PETKE SEEKS CONSISTENCY AFTER DRAW IN TORONTO

To say that Mike Petke was not thrilled with the Red Bulls’ 0-0 draw with Toronto FC last Saturday would be putting it mildly.

“I’m dumbfounded right now to be honest with you,” he bluntly told MSG Network’s Tina Cervasio in his post-match interview. “Part of me feels fortunate we got out of here with a point. Part of me says, ‘how the heck did we not get out of here with three points?’ But the way we played shows it. [Toronto FC] came out with heart and determination … and they took it to us.”

In the sweltering summer heat at Toronto, the Red Bulls couldn’t create enough quality scoring chances, managing a single shot on goal. Combined with a very dry pitch at BMO Field and lack of penetration in the final attacking third, the Red Bulls’ passing suffered and the team was unable to conjure decisive opportunities to breakthrough TFC’s stout defense. The tough conditions played to Toronto’s advantage, something Red Bulls center back Markus Holgersson alluded to Tina Cervasio in his post-match interview.

“[Toronto FC is] a hard-working team,” he said. “They played long balls behind us all the time and stretched us out.  Especially in the second half, we had a really bad passing game and we didn’t move enough.”

For Petke, the result was disappointing, especially after seeing his team record a resounding season-best 4-0 victory over the Montreal Impact in their previous match.

“The passing wasn’t crisp at all. The effort, at times, was lacking. The organization wasn’t there,” Petke lamented.  “And to come from a Montreal game last week when we were firing on all cylinders to this – you can understand maybe there was a bit of a downplay because you’re on the road, but not that much. It’s baffling.”

With matches against MLS-leading Real Salt Lake and East-leading Sporting Kansas City coming up, Petke sent a clear-cut message to his players: Shape up or the team will not reach its targeted final destination for this season.

“I need consistency,” he said. “To play like this [against Toronto FC], we’re not going to win a championship. We’re not going to accomplish what we want to accomplish. We’re going to be a midtable team that sneaks into the playoffs unless things change. These are games that you should win.”

UP NEXT: REAL SALT LAKE

The best team in Major League Soccer visits Harrison, NJ Saturday night as the Red Bulls host Real Salt Lake (complete coverage is on MSG beginning at 6:30 PM).

It may appear now is a good time for New York to play RSL since two main cogs for the league leaders – Nick Rimundo and team captain Kyle Beckerman – are away on international duty with the US Gold Cup squad. This presents a golden opportunity for the Red Bulls to get back on track and pick up a victory over an under-strength Salt Lake squad.

But RSL will be no pushovers, despite their loss in manpower. Led by head coach Jason Kreis, Salt Lake have been one of MLS’s most consistent teams. Playing a brand of soccer more akin to the pass-happy Latin American style, Kreis has built a force to be reckoned with year in and year out in Utah.

Kreis normally deploys his team in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, employing midfielder Javier Morales in the “No. 10 role,” the central attacking midfielder whose job is to link midfield with the attack. Morales leads the team in goals and assists and you can be sure that Petke will try to utilize his midfielders – mainly Dax McCarty – to seek out and neutralize Morales anyway they can.

Morales isn’t the only weapon Kreis can call upon to stir up a potent RSL attack. Robbie Findley, a former US international striker is a dangerous front man and will test Holgersson, and Jamison Olave with his speed. Off the bench, Kreis can summon young Olmes Garcia, a 20-year-old Columbian who’s scored five this season.

OLD FACES IN NEW PLACES

For Olave and Red Bulls forward Fabian Espindola, Saturday’s match has even more meaning. The Red Bulls acquired both players on Dec. 3 in an offseason trade last year with Real Salt Lake and the pair will undoubtedly be looking to make an impression on their former team.

A two-time MLS All-Star and MLS Defender of the Year in 2010, Olave has been a stabilizing force at the back for the Red Bulls. He’s struck a reliable partnership with Holgersson and his intimidating 6-foot-3 frame has been an asset for the Red Bulls.

The transition from West to East has been slower for Espindola. The Argentinean front man has only started to find his form and looks to have seized the starting striker position alongside Thierry Henry over Peguy Luyindula. There would be no better way to endear himself to his new team than to score a few goals past his old one for Espindola this week.