Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAVE MARTINEZ
After experiencing first hand, as a player and a coach, just how difficult it has been for the New York Red Bulls to settle on a proper training ground, head coach Mike Petke would not deny himself another minute to inaugurate the team’s new grounds.
“I made sure I was there early to be the first person to pass the ball on the field,” Petke told reporters. “It’s incredible. I could relate it to moving from Giants Stadium to Red Bull Arena, the feeling I had being a part of this so long and wondering if it would ever really happen. Same here.”
While Giants Stadium was treacherous as a home ground, Montclair State University and the various other facilities the Red Bulls and then Metrostars settled on weren’t any better.
“We have been at Montclair for so many years and it wasn’t suitable for the players that we have and the environment we wanted,” Petke acknowledged, adding “we made due with it.”
Players have long complained, mainly off the record, about how undesirable Montclair was. Many of the 2012 Red Bulls blamed the surface for their infamous plague of injuries that haunted them most of the season. Juninho’s hamstring strain earlier this year was caused by a soft spot in the training grounds that adversely affected his run.
Aside from issues with the quality of the grounds, the pitch itself was limiting in terms of training. “Having one field at Montclair and having our grounds crew there 24-7 working as hard as they could, one field for that many years it is very difficult keeping it in game shape,” he said. “The field at Montclair is about 64 yards wide by 90. It was tough to translate to have that small a field and the space you are used to in a game not having that while we are doing 11 v 11 or working on coming out the back. It was tough.”
As if the dimensions weren’t an issue already, the presentation and facility capacity bordered on the edge of embarrassment – especially in light of the league’s addition of Designated Players.
“I remember when we signed Thierry (Henry) and Rafa (Marquez),” he recounted. “There was an underlying thought with certain people what their reaction was going to be when they go to the campus of a college, with a tiny building and a little field on the bottom. Now we don’t have that issue now.
“To move into this facility that Red Bull has given is is unbelievable. It has lifted spirits a ton. The excitement level is already high and the guys are anxious to get out there today and knock the ball around.”
While some will fall short of calling the new space in Hanover a “world class facility,” Petke thinks it holds up with the very best he has seen.
“It is world class as far as I am concerned,” he said. “It reminds me of the years I was in Europe in preseason, tournaments when I was a kid and driving out to an out of the way place and coming upon these fields and this building. It reminds me very much of that and that right there puts a stamp on it that it is truly professional.
“The size of the facility, the space they had, what we have included as far as weight training room, the physio room, the cafeteria, the lounge area and we aren’t even getting to the most important part which are the two full size grass fields which are the exact dimensions of Red Bull Arena,” he explains. “The grass is like a putting green.
“Just to walk out from the locker rooms and to see it perception wise, it makes any player feel wonderful about what they are about to do on that field no matter what it is. It should really raise the level.”
Whether with the Metrostars or Red Bulls, Giants Stadium and Montclair University became ubiquitous scapegoats for the team’s short comings. For Petke and the team’s staff, they expect the modernizing of the club’s facilities, along with their continued investment on the player front, to make such thought a thing of the past.
“It’s a professional environment. Everything that they feel they need to prepare today for the weekend game they have provided them in this facility,” Petke explained. “From the Arena to the practice facility to everything we try to do for these players off the field to get them ready off the field, there literally are no excuses anymore.”