BY DAVE MARTINEZ
Hans Backe and Mike Petke couldn’t be more different if they tried; that is the resounding message from the few Red Bull players who survived last season’s roster purge.
“I think they are definitely different coaches,” Dax McCarty said. “Mike wants to be involved in every little thing that goes on, from the nutrition from the treatment from the gym sessions all the way down to training.
“I think Hans was a little more hands off when it comes to things. He was very tactical.”
Though the preseason results may not reflect it, New York has certainly looked inspired throughout their early performances. The offense has transformed from the rigid 4-4-2 of the Backe era to a free-flowing variation of a 4-3-3 which relies heavily upon the leadership of the team’s veterans to push the attack forward rather than the confines of a tactical framework.
“Freedom” was a key buzzword around the team on media day to describe the change; a characteristic many players felt they sorely lacked under the previous regime.
“I think Mike is going to allow more freedom from the attacking five or six players,” McCarty explained. “He is going to allow them to interchange positions as long as defensively we know we keep our shape. It’s something some of our attacking players are really looking forward to; to be able to not be stationary. If you are a left winger, you don’t have to stay out on the left. You have that freedom to come inside, switch with the center forward who can come to the left, switch with the right winger. There is a lot of freedom in our attack and I think it’s going to be tough for teams to stop us.
“Hans was a little more rigid,” he admitted. “He liked guys to stay, keep their shape attacking and defending a little.”
It isn’t just the tactical changes that have impacted the team. Gone is the demure touch-line acumen of the former Swedish boss replaced by a barking Petke who at times looks seconds away from donning a uniform himself to get his points across.
“From the motivation stand point, Mike is a more vocal guy,” McCarty said. “Hans was a little quieter. He kind of left that at the hands of the players a little bit more.”
“One thing you know you are going to get with Petke is intensity and that passion for the game,” defender Heath Pearce said. “At times, we lacked that last year at the start of games. We lacked that fire coming in on the second half.
“To have a guy like that who is always so intense, I think it will wear off on the players to make sure every game we come out prepared. I mean obviously we have the talent here it’s just about sharpening those small things and he has done a good job with that so far.”
“With Mike, especially with us early in the season, we have to make sure we translate his passion on to the field and we have to make sure we are not starting games poorly,” McCarty added.
“Passion is something that I am convinced you can’t teach,” Petke told SBI. “You have it or not. I feel that every single person on this team has it; its about bringing it out of them. How do you do that? I don’t have an exact science on how to do that. I just hope my passion is rubbing off on them.
“Our first pre-season game, I lit into them yelling and you might sit back and say ‘it’s the first preseason game.’ I don’t care,” he declared. “I don’t care. It’s things that I expect and one thing I do expect is for 90 minutes not to be outworked above all else. I don’t care. What I do care about is not being out worked and bringing that competitiveness to work everyday and that’s where you are going into the competition side.”
Though the team has overwhelmingly taken to Petke’s message, some have had a more difficult time. The coach has been particularly hard on members of his backline, calling out players like Markus Holgersson for not being vocal or physical enough in their assignments. He has also experienced some tension with 2012 holdover Lloyd Sam who appears to have been pushed out of a starting role by newcomer Ruben Bover Izquierdo.
Overall, one thing they can all agree on is that the team has taken a 180-degree turn from their approach under the Backe regime, and only time will tell just how effective that change will be.