By Eric Krakauer
After a long and slightly embarrassing search for a head coach, the New York Red Bulls finally appointed interim coach Mike Petke to the position.
Petke’s appointment may come as a surprise to many; however, with the season just around the corner, the front office’s protracted search was becoming increasingly untenable. For the most part, Petke also fulfills many of the criteria the club’s leadership outlined as head coaching requisites: he’s very familiar with the league, is incredibly devoted to the club, and enjoys an almost unwavering allegiance from the Red Bulls fans.
Perhaps, the biggest surprise is that Petke was never a serious candidate to begin with, especially considering the current MLS trend of hiring former players to head coaching positions.
As expected, the club’s Sporting Director, Andy Roxburgh has been quick to dismiss the notion that Petke was never a candidate, by claiming that he was always “on the radar and part of the selection process.” That may well be the case. Petke was handed the keys to the locker room after Hans Backe was given his marching orders, and the native New Yorker has been intricately involved in the off-season decision-making – including the drafting of Ian Chistianson - with the club’s technical director, Ricardo Campos. Nevertheless, it’s fair to assume that rather than a head coaching choice, Petke was viewed more as the kind of assistant who would help alleviate the transition pains of a European coach.
In all likelihood, Petke will lose little sleep over the decision making process that settled on his appointment. The position is now his, and it’s his responsibility to make it work.
Red Bulls supporters will hope that Petke is able to mimic the job his former teammate, Ben Olson, has produced at DC United. Though, given the talent at his disposal, and the money that has been spent by the club, the front office is more likely to expect nothing less than what Jason Kreiss was able to accomplish at Real Salt Lake.
It’s that last point that may make Petke’s job in New York very difficult. Unlike DC United, and RLS, the Metrostars/Red Bulls organization has yet to win a cup, and the pressure to succeed in the world’s most famous city is far greater than anywhere else.
Additionally, the Red Bulls locker room is far different from every other MLS team except for the LA Galaxy. Petke will have to deal with the likes of Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and potentially, another designated player. It’s no secret that Henry can be difficult character to deal with even when the team is winning, let alone when the club is navigating through turbulence. The reports so far are that Petke has developed a good rapport with his players, but it will be interesting to see how he will maintain control of the locker room when the team faces its first real challenges.
Up to this point, Petke’s short tenure has shown a lot of promise, which certainly bodes well for the team’s stability. Curiously, though, Red Bulls fans may prove more patient than the club’s front office, since one can’t help but think that given the club’s history, management will probably not tolerate many slip-ups, and could be looking for a more notable coach at the first sign of trouble.