Photo by ISIphotos.com
By TYLER GRAY
When New York Red Bulls head coach, Mike Petke, first learned that we would be coaching his former team, he stared at the wall and thought to himself, “Holy s—, what do I do next?”
Now, just under a year later, and with arguably the franchise’s most successful season under his belt, he seems like a completely different person.
Petke was overwhelmed many times throughout the year, but he navigated the daunting MLS schedule with success and is ready to get right back at it. Despite a rocky start to the season and a less-than-flattering exit from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Petke focused on the positives and praised his team for coming together despite the circumstances and winning New York’s first piece of hardware during his end-of-the-season conference call.
“As the season progressed, these guys really jumped on board,” Petke said. “These guys bought into what we were trying to do and as the season progressed you saw definitely an improvement overall, not only in the play but in the attitude and the environment.”
The Red Bulls, both the franchise and the fanbase, suffered through almost 18 trophy-less years before winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2013. Finally filling that case with a trophy means everything to a proud organization like New York, even if it feel short of its ultimate goal.
Petke, however, refuses to rest on his laurels and is already looking forward to next season.
“That’s a great memory to have and it’s something that we’ll have in our trophy case that isn’t empty anymore, but now it’s on to the next thing,” Petke said. “We’re all committed to continuing the success next year.”
Petke and the Red Bulls will look to shore up any areas of weakness and bring in new blood at key positions. They need to decide if they want to utilize their third available Designated Player slot and find ways to bolster their squad without tinkering too much.
“We ended as the regular season champions, so, obviously the players we have are good and we did something right,” Petke said. “The players did something right. We don’t feel it’s necessary to overhaul. I think that’s one thing, in the past, that has plagued this organization at certain times, whether it’s the Red Bulls or the MetroStars. It’s not necessary.”
Petke did admit, however, that he will look to improve as a coach. Specifically, Petke wants to improve his player management; resting the right players and selecting the right lineups. Thierry Henry, the Red Bulls’ captain, is getting up there in age and there are decisions to be made about his usage going forward.
“[Henry] definitely falls into a category of somebody I need to sit down with and figure things out for all the competitions we have next year and all the travel that’s going to entail,” Petke said “This year was very tough for me to take him off the field because of what he brings.”
These are the types of decisions that Petke will need to refine if the Red Bulls hope to duplicate this season’s success and avoid suffering a setback in 2014.