Petke boasts long history with D.C. United

Veteran leads Red Bulls into hostile RFK this weekend

He
was younger back then, barely into his third year in MLS and boasting blonde
hair that’s become a thing of the past.

Mike
Petke was a rising star in MLS a decade ago, when he scored a goal in overtime
at RFK Stadium to give the MetroStars a win over the reigning MLS Cup champion
D.C. United.

His
reward? He says he was accidentally punched when he jumped into the crowd of
New York supporters to celebrate, hardly the way his biggest fans intended on
praising a guy that helped the club win the Eastern Division and reach the
postseason.

He
can laugh it off now, but in 2000, the MetroStars were coming off a last-place
finish the year before. This year, the Red Bulls are hoping that some of the
Petke magic will rub off on a New York club hoping to erase their own demons
from the year before.

“It’s always a bit of motivation, the way
we’re treated by the fans,” Petke said of the hostile environment the team
faces in D.C.

Petke
was with D.C. United from 2003 through 2005 after a trade sent him from the
MetroStars to the team’s most-hated rival.

Having
been on both sides of the support at RFK Stadium, his emotions are fittingly
mixed: “It is a place I love and hated to play in.”

And
while Petke may not find the back of the net on Saturday like he did 10 years
ago, he will be counted on a different way. A young player who was a fan
favorite, Petke still elicits the same cheers and fanaticism from the New York
fans as he did when he was first drafted in 1998.

As
a veteran, however, his experience is being counted on in different ways – now
as a leader.

“We
definitely talk to Mike and get advice from him,” said first-year midfielder
Joel Lindpere. “He’s a leader on this team, along with Juan [Pablo Angel]. We
are fortunate to be able to have leaders like that.”

And
Petke is preaching to the team to come out fighting on Saturday. United,
according to Lindpere, will come out flying and looking to avoid a winless
start through five games.

Petke,
the former MetroStars legend who once called RFK home before returning to New
York, is wary.

“You
never count a team out like that,” Petke said.

Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.