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The SBI View: Petke not to blame for Red Bulls’ CONCACAF Champions League exit

Mike Petke New York Red Bulls 1

Photo by Howard C. Smith/ 



The finger pointing began even before the final whistle. As the minutes ticked off and the reality of the New York Red Bulls crashing out of the CONCACAF Champions League sunk in, fans of the club began to criticize head coach Mike Petke for failing to take the competition seriously.

The understandable anger and frustration that they felt Wednesday night is still very real nearly 12 hours later, but it is being taken out on the wrong person.

The Red Bulls were eliminated from the Champions League with a Group 3 game to spare after being held to a scoreless draw by CD FAS in El Salvador on Wednesday, and many observers pointed to the fact that Petke trotted a mostly reserve-filled lineup yet again.

Truth be told, this New York team should have been able to pick up a victory over a CD FAS side that was already eliminated and had nothing left to play for but pride. They still could have won if not for a missed penalty kick from Saer Sene and other blown opportunities in front of goal late in the second half.

But the Red Bulls didn’t convert, and Petke’s decision to not field the likes of Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and Bradley Wright-Phillips came into question immediately.

Petke explained their absences postgame as being down to injuries, which does not seem to hold much weight given that they were healthy enough to partake in this past weekend’s 4-1 thumping of the Seattle Sounders. Even so, he chose not to start Jamison Olave, Roy Miller and Eric Alexander in a must-win match alongside regulars like Dax McCarty and Lloyd Sam who were on the field.

It was another sign of the club prioritizing the MLS regular season over other meaningful competitions instead of taking them all seriously, but Petke’s hands were tied by what seems to be the Red Bull ownership group’s indifference towards success outside of league play.

Petke gets it, folks.

He is a long-time member of MLS, has played in the U.S. Open Cup and has watched as other teams have made deep runs in the continental tournament that is the CONCACAF Champions League.

He is also a fierce competitor and understands those competitions’ importance, even stating as much earlier this year.

That said, what can he do when his bosses prioritize how he does in MLS over any other success the club might have elsewhere?

Petke has never come out and said directly that making the MLS Cup Playoffs is more important than, say, the U.S. Open Cup or Champions League, but it is not hard to read between the lines and see that club’s owners don’t put much stock into winning those other major trophies.

“As far as the Open Cup goes, I love the Open Cup because I’m American. I was playing the Open Cup 17 years ago,” Petke said in June. “But I can tell you right now, I am 100 percent judged by my results in MLS from my bosses and Austria and not from the Open Cup.

“I can tell you right now if we win the Open Cup, I don’t even know if I’d get a recognition from Austria because they just don’t understand it, so that’s where I have to sometimes separate myself and realize what’s my job title? What’s my job description?”

The Open Cup was another tournament the Red Bulls took lightly and were eliminated from early, by the cross-town New York Cosmos of the NASL no less. That humbling 3-0 defeat was similar to the draw vs. CD FAS in that the most of Petke’s heavy artillery was left behind while a reserve-filled team struggled to put forth a performance worth being proud of.

Ultimately, it all comes down to Petke realizing that he needs to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs and have a good showing there in order to give himself the best chance of returning as Red Bulls head coach in 2015. He has essentially been forced to put all of his eggs in one basket.

“For me, I’m very excited to be in the Champions League. I think it’s a very important and great platform for us,” Petke said last month before starting Champions League play. “However, if I had to put the (Champions League and MLS regular season) next to each other, I wouldn’t put one above the other. But I can tell you that making the playoffs in MLS is extremely important, not only to me and the players, but to the organization.

“It’s going to be an interesting dynamic to put this together and figure out who’s going to play when.”

With so much invested in reaching the postseason, the Red Bulls need to not only make it there but have a stronger showing than in years past. No excuses.

If they don’t, then Petke will shoulder a lot more of the blame.

As for the failure in CONCACAF Champions League?

Don’t blame Petke. Blame the Red Bull ownership group.


  1. The writing is on the wall. Petke is out. When he is fired, Ben Olsen should consider picking him up to be his assistant. Ryan Nielsen too.

  2. I like Petke but he gets some of the blame for picking up back up players like Sene, Eckersley and Luyindula who are mediocre at best (I personally think they are for the most part pretty bad). The Bulls need real depth. Then perhaps they have a shot at winning the Open Cup and advancing in the Concacaf Champs League.

    • I think Luyindula has at times actually played a pretty vital role (and honestly I don’t think Petke had a whole lot to do with bringing any of those players in). If we’re going to blame Petke for a personnel move, it should be Holgersson out and Armando in. Many people questioned this at the time and he was quite vocal in backing it. It’s become clear that his approach to this was completely wrong and has seriously hurt the team this year. This was a situation where his being a “fierce competitor” with substantial MLS experience actually meant that he didn’t “get[] it”. His understanding of how teams should be constructed was biased by his own experience to his detriment.

  3. Mike Petke is not blameless in this loss.My reasoning is that you look at the players who have joined the team this year (one or two) then look at the players sitting on the bench game in and game out and the salaries they are making. Your assumption is that the coach picks the players on his team and that being the case then why do we have all these high priced players on the down side age wise on the team and not playing. He may not have picked the right youth (assuming he made the choices) but not giving them a chance to develop is his fault and no one else’s. My belief is that until the mentality of the organization changes the Red Bulls will always be also rans and Mike Petke is part of the organization.

  4. This is an oddly one-sided, simplistic editorial. Arguing that Petke bears no responsibility is just as silly as arguing that he bears all of the blame. If we’re being honest, we know that the players, Petke, and Austria all share responsibility for this situation.

    Of course Petke could have done things differently. I think everyone who follows the Red Bulls understands that there are problems coming from the top. Obviously Austria’s priorities and demands can be questioned. Institutionally the franchise’s approach to success is flawed. But that doesn’t absolve Petke of responsibility for his questionable decisions in this game. What’s the point in resting Cahill, who’s no longer a first XI player? Would a 20 minute run out for any of the rested starters have actually had any effect on their fitness for the weekend? These are questions the editorial conveniently ignores.

    Another big thing that the editorial ignores is the greater context. The organization, including Petke, is coming under fire because the fans feel like they’re being lied to. The promises keep shifting, the most recent being Petke’s stirring “as long I’m breathing” declaration, in addition to his 90% statement. Petke wouldn’t be facing half as much criticism if he hadn’t said one thing and done another.

    I’m not trying to pile on Petke. I still believe in him and don’t expect him to be perfect. He’s been more good than bad, he’s obviously still learning, and he’s going to make mistakes along the way. But just because other parties are also to blame doesn’t mean Petke should get a free pass.

  5. I feel really bad for New York fans. Yes, Petke, as an employee of RedBull, does have his hands tied and who knows what conversations he and Austria has in conference rooms. It’s obvious – Petke wouldn’t make dumb tactical mistakes. He’s proven.

    According to Matt Doyle, he’s a MetroStars fan, not a Red Bulls fan. Perhaps that statement carries some weight. Maybe New York fans should demand their club back and rattle some cages. Otherwise, there are more alternatives in the entire city of New York…

  6. BTW, I love the SBI View, I just hope they resist the temptation to talk about the troll topics.
    I will call them by code names, so I don’t attract the ever hungry trolls:

    Calorie Caps
    Flailing in the Winter

    Stick to soccer, US based soccer and enjoy the fact that the real fans will participate.

  7. Petke has also said that he was surprised that FAS were sitting back, seemingly happy with a home draw even though they had nothing to pay for. So apparently he planned for only one set of opposition tactics when he chose his roster. I *still* can’t believe that he went there knowing he needed to score and brought Sene and Bover as his only two real striker options.

  8. Come on the team lost! The players and the manager are at fault. Stop complaining about austria. this storyline needs to i much like the mickey mouse reporters that push them!!! perke is not told what to prioritize! That’s bull!!! He lost in open cup cause they were outplayed both physically and tactically. Petke is not much better than Backe. E dug himself into a hole in the standings not Austria. So now he is nervous. Trying to save his job!!! He does not adjust during games or dyring the season. we the fans know the truth. does he or do reporters? The fact that he said his players were injured and plays us for fools says it all to me! Petke does not control his locker room. What drama queens. Oh a Wednesday game what to do we’re tired. Please in Europe u play produce or your out. Look at Seattle! Down three goals and the star players come off the bench! That is heart!!! Let’s face it the team has none and let’s face it last years supporter shield was more luck than heart!!! By the way a real reporter asks henry “are u here to get paid or to play cause u need to prove it. Henry living legend that can’t play on Wednesday, on AstroTurf, and lets the minion take the winning shot!!!! Time to move on!!! Goodby to henry cahill petke and bad reporting from this site and the morons at eos!!!!

  9. I just don’t get why RedBull the company would absolutely not care about CCL. I think winning it and making it to Morocco would be absoltely great for their goal of advancing their brand. I think more so than winning the MLS Cup, which is also a total crapshoot.

    • perhaps but can understand not flying Henry, Cahill, Wright-Phillips and others to El Salvador and back mid week with game against Galaxy at StubHub this weekend. the CCL is cool but the travel is test of a team’s depth oftentimes

  10. i’m going to blame Sene and the other players who couldn’t score in El Salvador, or the players who couldn’t get a point in Montreal.

    The Red Bull ownership telling Petke that playoffs are more important than CCL and USOC is stupid but not like they told him to take a fall.. they were probably more along the lines of we invested $5M for Henry’s old legs, so we could win league titles, don’t go taking him to some turf field in Long Island or a midweek game in El Salvador!

    I completely understand when MLS teams hold their big DP’s out of away games in these cup matches, they should have 20 or so other players that should be capable of defeating lower division teams in the USOC and already eliminated Central American teams in the CCL… but apparently they don’t!

    Every year we go through this, playing in Concacaf isn’t as easy as it looks!

    side note; i was rooting for NY. NY/NJ area needs a good soccer team and the area needs to be more prominent in the global soccer landscape. glad to see Cosmos and City (re)entering the marketplace because this team has seriously under delivered.

    • NY is actually not a great soccer city in my opinion. Would be nice if it had the passion for the game we see in some of our other cities but that is not the case.

  11. How do the fans get in direct contact with Austria? It seems like they have zero accountability sitting in their castle far away in Austria.

  12. I blame the players who played the game, which included more than enough starters and usual subs, who should have been able to see off a terrible team with nothing to play for and no history of getting results in this tournament. Blaming the ownership half a world away is absurd and ignores the quality that Red Bulls did have on the field (its a shame Sam got hurt as he is clearly a difference maker). And yes, Petke deserves blame, and not just because Sene shouldn’t have taken that penalty. The result was exactly what has defined the Red Bulls for far too long even when chock full of their best talent — this team consistently plays down to its opponents and fails to win winnable games. That pattern is on the manager, not the ownership. Yes, its a shame that the Red Bulls didn’t or couldn’t field their A+ team. But the team they did field should have won that game handily and once again, as in MLS play so often, they didn’t. Don’t look to Austria for an explanation,

  13. What season was it where we sam RSL really go for the CCL at the expense of MLS cup?
    They ended up with “nothing” but many of us truly respected them and the way they represented the new way forward for MLS.

    Or how about Seattle? They have always emphasized the Open Cup from day one.
    Won a couple, too. Got to play CCL

    Austria couldn’t be bothered by The Cosmos, The CCL, or The Open Cup

    Just weird, man

    • They could play two games in a week.. The point is that Petke doesn’t have an incentive to risk doing so since winning the CCL or Open Cup is meaningless to the organization.. If the bosses did care about the CCL or Open Cup, Petke starts the regular squad (maybe not Henry due to age)

    • ..and that is my point. Everyone is pointing to management, coaches, etc.

      Where is the player that steps up and says, I want to play in that game ?
      Invisible so far. Maybe it happened and they are classy enough to stay behind the scenes. If I am playing on that team, I am not happy…or I am a content loser. I don’t see a middle ground.

  14. Pick your poison. Go for CCL and lose MLS or vice versa. They have absolutelly no shot at CCL so it makes sense to go for the MLS cup,…. or whatever it’s called.

    • Not true. SKC has the stated (by ownership on down) goal of winning every competition they are in, and they back it up by playing near full strength rosters in most every match. Because of depth and having places for your backups to play (Orlando City and now Oklahoma City) to keep them sharp, you can sprinkle in said backups without much drop off.

      In the last two seasons SKC have a USOC and MLS cup to show for it. Still alive in this year’s CCL and we will see you in the MLS playoffs.

      If ownership builds a team the right way you don’t have to pick your poison.

  15. I think the “article” (really an editorial) gives Petke too much of a pass.

    Reading between the lines, Petke is basically saying that his bosses will judge him on whether he makes (and how far he goes in) the playoffs, rather than USOC or CCL. If that is the case, why the ridiculous farce of playing some starters but not others? To maximize your chances agaisnt LA, play the C team again. Don’t give us this “90% of the roster” line or the “all thetop players were injured” line. On the other hand, if he is being *directed* from Austria not to put certain players in the lineup, that raises all sorts of troubling questions about the organization and about Petke’s self-respect. More generally, though, if I were told that my job security essentially depends on embarrassing myself and my team in two major competitions, I would have to ask myself whether that’s a job I want to keep.

      • Respectfully suggest you label them as such, and not list them with other news stories under “Top Headlines.”

        We need way more facts, in my opinion, before we can pronounce petke blameless. Was he ordered not to play certain players? To treat USOC and CCL like afterthoughts? Did his bosses tell him that they really will not consider those competitions when evaluating his performance? Did he decide on his own to prioritize MLS to the extent he did? None of the possible explanations reflects well on RBNY or Petke. Somebody needs to peek behind the wizard’s curtain and ask RB’s sporting bosses just what is going on. They have a jewel of a stadium and a core of devoted supporters, but at every turn, whether through dumb decisions or mysterious non-communication, they antagonize and alienate those same supporters.

      • Franco: I have seen nothing as to why Sene took the PK. Luyindula has taken them when BWP isn’t on the field, as he did perfectly against Philly (in bad conditions, too). Why didn’t he take this one? Sene seemed an out of the blue choice.

      • About time! This gives a chance to see if these reporters have any idea of the actual game. Although as a journalist you really just have to be awesome in asking the right questions and acquiring accurate information. This new ‘theme’ is just cool.

        Good luck Franco, get ready for some feedback lol

      • I like the idea, Franco…. the only opinion/editorial on the site really has been the SBI Show (and the thoughts of us knuckleheads in the comment section). Look forward to seeing more.

    • You can’t play the same “C” Team because RBNY Supporters actually do make it out to these games. So if you play just the “C”Team and make no effort at all to win, RBNY will have to give these supporters a refund because its not fair for supporters to have spend all this money to make it out there just to see RBNY not care AT ALL.

      Putting in 60% of the starting roster against the type of club we played still gives a chance to realistically win the game.. Honestly, rbny should have win but missed those chances.

      However, Petke made the right personal career choice by not playing Henry, Cahill and BWP because he can’t risk them getting hurt in a meaningless (meaningless to the organization) game.

      • If that’s the choice he made, then he should just say so, and say it plainly. Also, he was perfeclty OK risking injury to McCarty, Sam, Alexander, Oyongo, and Duvall — half of his starting field players — plus Luyindula.

      • I understand what you’re saying but who would you rather risk hurting

        BWP or Luyindula?

        TH14 or Sam?

        Chaill or McCarty? (actually I may argue i rather risk injuring Chaill lol)

        My point is that Petke has to make a choice on which 60% of the roster will start and considering that the bosses don’t care about CCL, the wisest choice Petke can make for himself is benching the best players but fielding a good enough team that should win… And I would even argue that Petke did field a good enough team but the finishing wasn’t there.

    • Petke losses the game and then blames his bosses. As someone else pointed out Red Bull Salzburg has 2 open cups (Austrian) in the last three years! They also sure as hell know what the Champions league is.

      Put a fork in it…Petke’s done. He and Ryan Nelson were cut from the same cloth. Old school MLS rah-rah knuckle-head players that couldn’t coach their way out of a paper bag.

    • This is the exact question me and my cousins ask each other. We agreed that in about 3-5 years if we are in the same boat, Red Bulls will have to sell.

      I’ve already stopped attending games and just watch RBNY from home and I haven’t bought any Red Bulls merchandise in 2 years. It hurts to see this team, me and my cousins (not all of them) cried when we made it to to the MLS Cup and flew all the way out to Cali just for 1 days to see the game, and one of my cousins just for a few hours!! lol

      It sucks man, it really does. But at the end of the day we are supporters and although I’m on strike by not attending games or buying merchandise and borderline loss my passion for the club, part of me still loves them.

  16. Red Bull/Austria is run by a bunch of morons.

    Petke and Roxburgh know what they’re doing. Don’t blame them.

    If some of those guys who played against CD FAS last night had been getting regular minutes they might have been sharp enough to score a goal…or 7. However, there is no way for these guys to get games and thus develop and stay in good form.

    I don’t know who in Austria is making the New York Red Bull decisions, but whoever it was never went to business school. By investing in a USL squad you can avoid trotting out players who are ice cold. You can win more game and expand your global brand. Additionally you can develop players like Jozy Altidore and sell them for $10 million. Who doesn’t want $10 million?!

    As it is NY will host Montreal later this season in a meaningless CCL game because they have been eliminated. No one is going to show up for this game and once again Austria will be losing money by operating an empty stadium.

    If they aren’t going to make smart decisions for the sake of the team and the fans they should at least make them for their own bottom line.

    • What do you mean by “making the decisions”? If you take the position (or have knowledge) that Petke is being given specific personnel directives and squad lists from Austria, then I wholeheartedly second this point of view.

      However, I am not reading the story this way (though admittedly I could be wrong). As such, I’m not really sure what the fuss is about— frankly it sounds like a pack of excuses from Petke. Prioritization of the domestic league is nothing new. It is actually something of a market standard for most coaches in top global leagues. Petke has a nice squad available to him– he should be able to negotiate this group no problem.

      Honestly, we’ve now seen many MLS teams play in the CCL and nobody else seems to be having this problem, Teams like SKC, Seattle, Portland, and DCU all have postseason ambitions and are spreading their personnel accordingly…. what is so different about Petke’s situation? He gets paid to find these solutions, no?

      Having said all this, I absolutely agree that NYRB’s European management are clueless, and will limit always be a limiting factor. But lots of people have rubbish bosses. It’s not an excuse in and of itself.

  17. Playing in El Salvador isnt a cake walk. Who did Petke expect to score goals? He should have taken two of these players and started maybe just Cahill. if the score was tied at halftime then bring on the other forward. Really a shame for the fans for all the misery we’ve been through.

      • Yes, every coach is judged if they make the playoffs. However, I doubt people from Austria called Petke and told him who to play.

      • +1…. I thought it was a good piece but ultimately Franco lets Petke off the hook WAY too easily for me. Prioritizing the domestic league over other competitions is nothing new or unique. Alex Ferguson stated the organizational importance of the domestic league vs. Champions League etc. countless times. Petke doesn’t get a pass for being held to this very common standard.

      • True to an extent but I just see it as something harder to achieve requiring more skill throughout the roster.

      • Please. Nobody in the competition actually thinks this. It’s like an NHL player saying they’d rather win the President’s Trophy than the Stanley Cup. It doesn’t happen.

        Everybody knows the rules of the game and agrees on the standard that defines the champion. If the standard was simply “what’s harder to do” then why stop there… why not go with “most clean sheets” or “highest goal differential”. All of these things, like the Supporters Shield, are just consolation prizes.

      • If it was a balanced schedule, it would have much more meaning. But the unbalanced schedule (and thus vastly different strength of schedules for each team), neuters it.

        If we went back to playing everyone twice, home and away, I can see it gaining equal footing with time to winning the end of season tourney for MLS cup. Neither have the tradition of the Stanley Cup so that isn’t really a fair comparison.

      • Agree with the unbalanced schedule, of course. This is clear.

        And it is a nice achievement. But you won’t see clubs putting stars on their jerseys for “Supporters Shields Won” Why? Because it’s not how the competition is set out. Period.

        The very nature of competition is to see “who’s best” according to rules that are laid out and agreed to at the outset. In the current MLS format, teams do not agree to a round-robin format a la most European leagues. They agreedto an American-style season+playoffs format. House rules always matter most

      • They are badly mistaken in that case.

        (1) The unbalanced schedule nullifies any sense of fairness

        (2) The competitive dynamic is based around qualification for a subsequent knockout tournament. For example, if there were no meaningful playoffs, a mid-table team might very well spend the last month of the season sending prospects and HGPs out for match experience rather than jockeying for that final playoff slot. Teams who might play for draws in a playoff race would have no incentive to do so. Everything changes. It’s a fugazy standard that only has meaning in hindsight.

        It’s a consolation prize, and the proof is in the pudding. LAG and DCU fans don’t give a hoot for the Supporters Shields they’ve won…. it’s only valued by fans of teams who don’t have anything better.

      • it isn’t great, but it’s up 20.68% this season, averaging 16,468. despite being in crap RFK.

        NY is averaging 18,846, which is -3.16% from 2013. you have a sweet stadium, Henry, Cahill, and the guy about to break the MLS scoring record. so what’s your excuse?! 🙂

      • i know i’m in the (vast?) minority, but i love rfk–just nostalgia, maybe. still hoping to see a new stadium before i die.

      • don’t get me wrong, DCU games at RFK are so much fun. but when concrete slabs start falling in the press box and seat sections start collapsing, it’s hard to not say it’s crap.

        even though i no longer live in DC, i’ve said i’ll still buy season tickets if they manage to get a stadium built. even if i’m in CA. and i can only hope this comment from yesterday is true:

        “‘We feel like we have the votes and we have the support of the D.C. Council. … I think they’re behind us.”

  18. Thank you for bringing to light what seemed to be the thought process of the owners. At the end of the day it’s our players who didn’t produce. You can’t continually blow chances and expect to win games. You ESPECIALLY can’t miss a PK and expect to claim 3 points. I’ll stew for days on this one but they wear the RB jersey so no excuses, we blew it.

  19. I get not worrying about the open even that but champions leauge . Mls needs to win one. Henry cahill phillips they no they should be demanding to play. Idk we better go far in the playoffs. Without tori next year offense boy that better get legit south american stud vvaleri p iatti. What has salzburg done for us. We need relationship with nit team Orlando has beneficakcity flunkies idk

  20. Why doesn’t Austria “understand” the open cup? They have a cup competition in Austria. In fact, Red Bull Salzburg won it two of the last three years. It’s the same thing.

      • One that pays million of dollars while this one isnt even the level.of the europa league. Does it suck yes but it’s it truth yes. Until MLS and Liga MX can make millions by winning it, this will continue to happen.

      • The MLS salary structure makes it almost impossible to build a deep squad. There is a big dropoff in quality from the first 11 for most MLS teams. That’s what needs to change.

  21. This is not a real organization. Their priorities are different than most teams.

    Petke hasn’t covered himself in glory, but it’s tough to single him out as THE problem.

    Look towards Austria


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