After just completing a seventh straight match without a loss, you would think Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke would be pleased with the way his team rallied twice to earn a 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew Sunday.
Of course, if you watched his postgame interview with MSG’s Tina Cervasio, you’d know that would be wrong.
“It wasn’t good enough,” Petke said. “Not just the players, but from the coaching staff as well. It didn’t seem like we were ready for this game at all and it starts up top with me, and it goes down.”
It appears that standards with the Red Bulls have risen under the new coach and the Red Bulls may have finally found their long-term solution with Petke.
After former head coach Hans Backe was relieved of his duties last season, coaches with European experience – such as former Swansea City manager Paulo Sousa and ex-Leeds United boss Gary McAllister – were touted for the top spot in New York. In the end, the team ultimately decided to give the position to Petke, New York’s assistant coach last season. Having never been a head coach at any level, Petke’s first season was expected to be a year of transition. As it turns out, the Red Bulls’ 2013 campaign is off to a better start than most experts expected.
Petke has navigated New York into first place in the Eastern Conference after going winless in his first four matches. Petke has turned results around for the Red Bulls, recording a 6-2-2 record in the last 10 matches. He’s also built in a never-say-die attitude into the team, which has led to some dramatic results. During the team’s current seven-match unbeaten streak, New York has scored a winning or equalizing goal in the 80th minute or later five times. The resolve to find a way win or draw a match late was a trademark of Sir Alex Ferguson’s great Manchester United teams and it is a trait of many championships squads.
As the Long Island native told Tina Sunday, the change in attitude and results starts from the top. While Petke has much more to prove this season, the early signs are promising.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps
The Red Bulls will have an opportunity to extend their unbeaten run to eight matches when they host the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday at Red Bull Arena (6:30 PM, MSG). With New York heading into a three-week break after the match, Petke hopes his team can ride the momentum of their unbeaten streak into the long interlude.
“It’s very important to an end on a high note,” Petke told Tina Cervasio at Thursday’s practice. “Other teams will be playing the next three weeks and we can’t respond to it. This is three points for us and we need three points.”
Vancouver is a team that normally lines up in a 4-3-3 formation and likes to cede possession to their opposition. Winless away from home, look for the Whitecaps to keep it tight and try to hit New York on the break.
“They’re a dangerous team,” Petke said. “They’re a very good counter-attacking team. They clog up the middle, don’t give you much room to play. When they’re winning, they’re very aggressive going forward.”
Despite a winless record away from home and a 3-4-3 mark this season, Vancouver boasts a lineup with plenty of experience. Nigel Reo-Coker was once captain of West Ham United, Lee Young-Pyo played at Tottenham Hotspur and Joe Cannon has been one of MLS’s most dependable goalkeepers.
An early Red Bulls goal should be enough to deflate their Canadian opponents and it would force the Whitecaps to come out of their defensive shell to chase the game. Vancouver will want to keep it close to the vest; it’ll be up to the Red Bulls to seize the initiative and take the game to their opponents. For Petke, the gameplan is simple.
“We have to control the ball and not give them any opportunities,” he said.
A “City” Divided
Major League Soccer unveiled plans to have its 20th franchise in the league right in the Red Bulls’ backyard, announcing last week that New York City Football Club will begin playing in MLS during the 2015 season.
The club will be a joint venture, with two of professional sports heavyweights – Manchester City Football Club and the New York Yankees – teaming together. The early plans are to have NYCFC be playing somewhere in the five boroughs and the hopes are that there will be a natural in-area rivalry between NYCFC and the Red Bulls.
“It’s a big day for Major League Soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.
“The Red Bulls have been such a great partner in the league. They’ve really worked hard to build (soccer) in this market. This is a market for 19 million people – that’s how many people can drive to a Red Bull game or drive to an NYCFC game. Now, we’ll have a rival. We’ll be able to replicate some of the things that have gone on in the Pacific Northwest …[the rivalry] takes over the mindshare of everyone in the market and that’s what we’re hoping to do with the NYCFC-New York Red Bulls rivalry.”
It might seem like adding another team to the market could pose a threat to the Red Bulls, but in some ways, the addition of NYCFC will be beneficial to the Red Bulls in a variety of different areas. Competition is never a bad thing and having a local New York derby for the first time will be an exciting prospect. While the two-team experiment has been somewhat disappointing in Los Angeles due to Chivas USA’s lackluster attendance, there’s more of a possibility of it working in New York, where such a diverse and large fanbase thirsts for soccer.