Photo by Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports
By DAN KARELL
When the final whistle blew in Houston on Sunday afternoon, Mike Petke and the New York Red Bulls breathed a sigh of relief.
Combined with the Red Bulls’ 3-1 victory on Saturday against Toronto FC and the Dynamo’s 3-1 defeat to D.C. United, the Red Bulls clinched a playoff spot for the fourth season in a row and 11th time in the last 12 years.
“It’s huge,” Petke said of making the playoffs in his weekly teleconference. “It’s our number one target from preseason on, is to continue the run that we had since 2010 in making the playoffs. We’re obviously very proud and very happy with it. So first mission down and now we have a short mission to get as high as we can.”
With two games remaining, the fourth-place Red Bulls can still mathematically finish as high as second place or as low as fifth place. If the season ended Monday, the Red Bulls would host the Columbus Crew, this weekend’s opponent, in the Eastern Conference knockout game.
Here are some more notes from Petke’s weekly media conference call:
NO LINEUP ROTATION IN GAMES AHEAD
Excluding the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday against the Montreal Impact, Petke didn’t foresee too many lineup changes ahead.
Although the Red Bulls have clinched a spot in the playoffs, Petke didn’t want to use the next two weeks as a chance to rest some of his overworked players, unless they’re specifically carrying injuries.
“There’s no more (lineup) balancing,” Petke said. “The only thing that I would say, obviously if there’s somebody that’s not 100 percent, whatever their fitness is, we would be smart with them. But there’s no more of a balancing left. We made the playoffs, if we win both games we can climb a bit, or at the least stay out of fifth place.
“We need to be sharp, we need to be firing on all cylinders coming into these playoffs….We know the higher we (finish), the better we are prepared going in and the better position we will be in.”
The Red Bulls finish their season with matches against the Columbus Crew this Sunday and a final-weekend showdown with Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park.
PETKE PRAISES HENRY IN WHAT COULD BE HIS FINAL GAME AT RED BULL ARENA
As the Red Bulls head into their final home match of the regular season, the Red Bulls faithful face the possibility of saying good bye to star Thierry Henry one last time.
If the Red Bulls finish the season in fifth place, and Henry does decide to leave the club at the end of the season, Sunday’s match would represent the final home game in his impressive Red Bulls career. Though it’s likely that the Red Bulls will host at least one playoff game, Petke gave a quick look back at what Henry has meant for the Red Bulls franchise.
“I think Thierry has brought something to this league that perhaps only one other foreign player has brought, which is obviously David Beckham,” Petke said. “You can even say it’s very different things that they’ve brought to this league. I would even through Landon Donovan in there as a domestic player who’s brought so much to this league.
“But Thierry is arguably one of the top players in the history of this game. The prestige that he has brought over here, the recognition back in Europe, just from him being here and coming here in his prime, to be able to witness him on a daily basis over his entire stay in MLS is something I’ll never forget.
“He’s one of the greatest soccer minds….to have a conversation with Thierry about soccer is like talking to Albert Einstein about physics.”
PETKE EXPLAINS REASONS FOR FORMATION CHANGE
After a season where the Red Bulls primarily played in a 4-4-2 formation, this season’s constant lineup movement has led to a consistent change in team formation.
The latest change has seen the team move to a 4-2-3-1 formation, and it’s paid off in spades. With Dax McCarty partnering alongside Eric Alexander in the holding midfield roles and any of Henry, Peguy Luyindula, Tim Cahill, and Lloyd Sam playing in the attacking three behind Bradley Wright-Phillips, the Red Bulls have lost just once since the start of September, earning a place in the MLS Cup playoffs.
Petke stated that the switch in formation was necessitated by the team’s defensive struggles, and he even considered moving to the 3-5-2 formation, which made a comeback during the World Cup.
“It became evident that we needed to protect our backline, not to have them under constant pressure because we have those type of guys, four or five guys, committing forward,” Petke stated. “At one point before we did this, we were training with three at the back, 3-5-2 type situation for a couple of days. We knew something had to change though and we went to this option. It hasn’t been perfect but it’s definitely paid dividends on many occasions over the last month and a half.”
Petke also was quick to credit Thierry Henry with the decision to move to the 4-2-3-1, claiming that the two bounced ideas back and forth before coming to the current conclusion.
“It’s always been that way to an extent but this especially this year, you’d be (bad) not to utilize that experience and to have these soccer conversations with (him),” Petke said.
NEWS AND NOTES
- Petke didn’t say exactly when they would return but he said it would be a big welcome to have the trio of Tim Cahill, Roy Miller, and Ambroise Oyongo back from international duty.
- The Red Bulls coach also said as of Monday it was too early to tell on the injury status of Ruben Bover and Ibrahim Sekagya, who both picked up knocks in the 3-1 victory over Toronto FC.
- Petke said he was very impressed with the comeback from the Columbus Crew in Philadelphia last Saturday, and said he thought that since the Crew last played the Red Bulls in July, they had “fine tuned” some aspects, leading to their recent success.
What do you think of these notes? Glad to see the Red Bulls qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs? Do you expect them to put out the same starting XIs for both of the final matches?
Share your thoughts below.