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Petke struggling to find someone to give Red Bulls wings

Lloyd Sam Red Bulls (Getty Images)


HARRISON, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls midfield has a problem and it was a problem that was easily disguised in the early weeks of the MLS season, as the team played a series of opponents that made it easy to cover the issue.

The Red Bulls lack quality on the wings and the problem became glaringly obvious on Wednesday night as the Red Bulls suffered a disappointing 1-0 loss at home to Sporting Kansas City, a result that dropped New York to 2-4-2 on the season.

Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke has been deploying a pair of players better suited for central midfield roles, Eric Alexander and Jonny Steele, as wingers, and while the results of that experiment have been positive against some weaker opponents, Wednesday night provided some evidence that the team will need some new alternatives on the flanks if they are going to challenge the league’s better teams.

“Not tonight,” right back Brandon Barklage said after Wednesday’s loss when asked if he thought the Red Bulls were getting enough from the flanks. “The past few games it’s been okay, but it’s going to take a little bit of time with new partnerships on both sides. It’s going to take a little bit of time for us to gel. It was not gelling tonight.”

Granted, Alexander and Steele are serviceable players that will likely play parts in the Red Bulls’ success this year, and they both put in the type of defensive work that Petke values. But their inability to beat players on the dribble and create for their teammates from the flanks is making New York a narrow team that is easy to defend against.

The lack of width is indeed part of the reason why Sporting KC was mostly untroubled on Wednesday night, and why the Red Bulls have scored just twice at home and been shutout twice in three games at Red Bull Arena. Yes, Sporting KC are one of the best defensive teams in MLS but the Red Bulls have more than enough quality to create more from the run of play than they did on the night and in recent weeks.

“I don’t think today we did create anything,” Thierry Henry said after Wednesday’s defeat. “If you look at the only opportunity, clear one, we had was because [Matt] Besler misread the ball. If he doesn’t come for that ball, there’s no way I can beat him. He just misread it and I went 1-v-1 with the ‘keeper and I missed.

“Sometimes you’ve got to also be honest with yourself. I don’t think we did create enough to beat Kansas City today and at times I thought they were controlling the game.”

New York’s forwards often find themselves isolated up top, starved of service and needing to rely on set pieces for their best looks on goal. Wednesday’s miss aside, Henry still can finish with the best of them in the league and he showed that with his sublime winner over the Philadelphia Union last month – on a play where he got on the end of a cross from Peguy Luyindula. Henry is far less effective when he has to drop deep to try and receive the ball from his teammates.

What options do the Red Bulls have? One player who has yet to see substantial minutes this season is English winger Lloyd Sam, who impressed last season as a threat on the right flank. He has been in the doghouse in the early going, possibly due to what sources tell SBI was a falling out with Petke during the pre-season.

Sam has the speed that can help stretch defenses and is dynamic enough on the ball to add another dimension to the Red Bulls’ stale attack. His defending and work rate may not be up to the standard that Petke wants and the club may lose a bit in those regards by putting him in. But when the attack is struggling to create chances like it is now, Petke may have no other choice but to give Sam some minutes.

Whether it is Sam or youngsters Ruben Bover or Marius Obekop, the Red Bulls need some natural wingers to step forward and give the team some width, because if viable flank options don’t emerge soon the Red Bulls could continue to struggle against better teams. Then, they may have no choice but to address the weakness in the summer transfer window.


  1. I still support Petke. This team has been fighting harder than in the Backe era and, being at game last night, New York played pretty well. In fact I felt they were too predictable with attacking up the wings. Seemed like we couldn’t build much up the center. Juninho had a solid match until the ejection. Miller had a great game. I know Henry is a class above almost anyone in MLS and I think that this team needs someone up to as smart as he. That’s one option.

    Another might be Kaka in center with Junihno and Cahill up top. Wingers aren’t perfect but I don’t know that is the solution bc I suspect Junihno may be better as a sub through a long season through the summer, with so much travel, and on varying natural and fake surfaces.

    • After Kaka/3rd DP comes in the summer and HOPEFULLY some serious wing reinforcements, there is no way we could still see the trio of McCarty, Cahill, and Juninho. This team loses too many games due to to being thoroughly outplayed in the midfield. They need to find at least one speedy/creative wide midfield option and of course the signing of Kaka to go along with it. Then I think we can once again start talking about the Red Bulls being really serious contenders for an MLS Cup. Right now we’re barely contenders for a playoff spot. Basically the way you’ll know we’ve taken the right steps this season is if one of these three (McCarty, Cahill, and Juninho) aren’t regular starters by summer’s end…

  2. lost faith . . . – this team has no style and lacks direction – – sad to say, but how can players suggest they need more time to gel at this point in the season – – they were mostly all there for preseason – a loser mentality may be taking over the club

  3. Good points….

    Sorry hate to harp on it but where is Tim Cahill?

    I understand the adjustment period for players entering the league..

    I understand the difficulty in lining up next to a guy who demands so much of the offense (deservedly so)

    I understand that Everton Football Club and even Millwall employed different styles with different players under different leadership in a different league….

    That being said, why is a player of Tim’s caliber not on the end of something..well anything miss of finish, more often

    Not targeted enough?

    New York’s style being more helter/skelter than not??


    This cat can finish at a clinical clip.

    Again, where is Tim Cahill

    • Read a great article today about how Cahill just doesn’t fit the system. He literally was the last kind of player we should have gotten last year to compliment McCarty. Such a shame because he is a great leader.

  4. KAKA come and safe Red Bull or should Bob Bradley come and safe them. There has to be a B plan for a coaching change, if not good luck red bull fans but dont worry, NY2 is coming in less than 3 years so, keep your head up.

  5. I’m sorry to say this because he’s a great guy & cool person, but Mike Petke doesn’t inspire any confidence as a competent Head Coach/Manager in this league. During his two years as the low man on Backe’s staff did he work on attaining coaching credentials? Maybe if he had a #2 who tactically could guide him well, but Robin Fraser? Did management notice his dreadful 2 year record at the helm of Chivas USA? This squad is built to win now and there isn’t the luxury of Mike learning on the job. I hope I’m proven wrong….

  6. i think the red bulls just can’t catch a break, they finally have a coach who actually played for the team, but still have coach/player relationship problems, i mean 17 years now still can’t catch a goddamn break

    • There’s no relationship problem. Sam needs to get his but in shape and do whatever the manager says. Let’s not make Sam out to be Christiano Ronaldo here. He’s a journeyman, borderline MLS player. He’s not a guy you make allowances for. He is a guy that shuts his mouth, plays hard and does what he should be doing or he doesn’t see the pitch.

  7. Conor Lade and Sam should be starting wide. And maybe the solution to “the Roy Miller plague”…start him wide and put Pierce at left back. That way, you get all of Miller’s attacking power, and zero of his defensive brainlocks right near his own goal. So the fact there are three better starting options that the current two out wide (Alexander and Steele), have me starting to question if Petke has what it takes to make RBNY a winning team.

  8. I think the personal problem between Petke and Sam resulted from Sam showing up to camp out of shape. Regardless, Sam has looked good in the limited minutes and also played really well in the reserve matches(one of them I attended). I agree with a previous poster, Miller could be played in front of Pearce as well.

  9. It’s not as sexy but:


    • With Juniho’s stupid red card, we’ll probably see Cahill in central midfield with Espindola as the second striker. I’d also prefer someone besides Bover as he hasn’t shown me much yet. I’d rather see Miller moved up to left wing with Pearce behind him as another poster suggested.

      When Junniho is back, then they move Cahill out wide or push Sam into a forward spot in a 4-3-3 with Henry and Espindola.

  10. Just read the bottom part of the article… of Lloyd Sam is seriously not playing because Petke has a personal problem with him then he should be fired. I assumed he was injured and that’s why I hadn’t seen him.

    If you can’t do your job and leave personal issues off the pitch–you shouldn’t be coaching. He is easily your best option on the wing.

    • Not a personal issue. He’s not training well. If you don’t put in the effort in training, you won’t see the pitch. Any decent manager would do the same.

  11. I said after the first game of the season that Thierry Henry would lose faith in Petke over his playing Johnny Steele who couldn’t cross or hit the broad side of the barn with several wide open shots inside the 18.

    It was obvious from right then and there that not only is he not capable of playing on the wing, but he certainly should not be starting. And to put a cherry on top, Thierry Henry refused to celebrate with him after the goal Henry scored in that match.

    • I think this is what will continue to kill NYRB. Not Petke, but the fact that guys like Henry are above the team and coaches. Rafa Marquez somehow got worse there, Henry acting like a child. Teams like SKC and Houston playing as a team continue to prove that

      • I think it’s quite the opposite.

        Thierry Henry is the consummate professional player. He does not speak ill of coaches and he knows what to say and when to say it.

        But there’s another angle. Thierry Henry has probably forgotten more about football than Petke ever knew.

        Henry was playing professional first team football for Monaco before Petke even started college.

        Rafa Marquez is just Rafa Marquez–really no comparison between he and Henry.

    • Injured, I think. Bover showed last night that he is not really ready for prime time. I vote for Lloyd Sam and maybe Obekop (is he a true winger?).

      Would it be crazy to play Roy Miller as a wide midfielder in front of Pearce?

      • Bover was very unconfident on the ball last night. He is not an option. Obekop and Sam could be nice wide options and they are all we have, really. I do like Alexander and perhaps he should split minutes with Juninho, like, 65/35.

  12. He needs to get Lloyd Sam out there….is he not ready to go and start a match and give him a good solid 60-65 minutes already?

    • I agree. Sam had some good moments last year, and though Petke may not rate him as highly as Backe did, he’s a natural winger and he has the speed to get behind the defense.He should give him a run out and see how it goes. And if not him, then start Obekop who at least looked hungry last night.


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