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Big changes ahead as Red Bulls transition from Backe to Petke


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.


  1. Both Lloyd Sam and Holgersson need to step up. It’s not an issue of favorites with Petke, it’s meritocracy. Those two guys have underwhelmed and if they want to start, they need to focus on overwhelming.

    BTW, the Empire State’s Bldg will be lit up in Swedish flag colors tonight in honor of Swedish House Mafia being in town on tour.

  2. From my eyes, Backe ran a very fluid formation. Marking backs pushed into the midfield and Henry checked back deep and generally did whatever he wanted. Stylistic changes were made after halftime in many cases. It’s curious that this angle is being pushed by the team as a selling point through puff piece journalism. Obviously, a bit of “freedom” is necessary when the roster is overhauled without a head coach. I think the quote from McCarty stems from being played out of position last season.

    Cahill will drift up, Espindola will flare out, and Juninho will fend for himself. Hopefully that replaces Cooper’s 18 goals.

  3. Passion alone can’t guide teams. It only takes a team so far. Tactics, game management and player management requires some thought and planning.

    Petke is going to make some mistakes. Question is, can he learn from them and will he seek out the answers he will need to get answered?

    Jason Kreis was passionate when he started, but he is far different now than when he started managing RSL.

  4. His approach is eerily similar to Jurgens when he first took over. Key buzzwords like “passion, work rate, free-flowing attacking movement, hunger.” These are all things Jurgen preached at the start of his regime. As most of us forget, Jurgen delivered on all these things in the early games, as Petke has in the pre-season. Lets hope Petke doesnt hit the drought Jurgen has, but I’m confident if he does that he will find himself back on track soon enough. As will Klinnsman.

  5. Go get ’em, Petke. There is enough veteran leadership on this team to deal with a little more freedom on the field. Hold people accountable.

  6. Welp, this what I was afraid of–taking the leash off Henry and letting him do his thing and lead the offense. Hopefully the Fire have the defensive prowess to keep them in check because it looks like we’ve got our front runner for EC.


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