Welcome to the 300 club, Mike Petke.
Assuming he plays Thursday night when the Red Bulls play Columbus, Petke will be making his 300th MLS appearance. It is obviously a time of reflection for the Red Bulls central defender as he gets ready for a milestone achievement.
Petke has played the most matches and the most minutes for the Red Bulls in franchise history since being drafted in 1998. However, he was close to never reaching this milestone.
Rewind back to 2000 and the then-MetroStars were coming off their best season in franchise history to date, ending the playoffs just one game shy of the MLS Cup. Petke was in Germany on trial with several clubs, a trip to Europe that was facilitated by teammate Lothar Matthaus.
For two weeks, Petke trained with famed club Bayern Munich, playing what he termed “some of the best soccer of his life.” Another trial with top division side FC Kaiserslauten yielded an offer from the Bundesliga side. Holding an offer from Bayern and Kaiserslauten, Petke had some thinking to do.
Petke was realistic about both offers. At Bayern, he says he probably wouldn’t have played much and that club's plan was to loan him to the lower division. The deal at Kaiserslauten was close financially to the offer he had from MLS, though incentives for matches played would have made it “very, very attractive.” With a league offer in his hand and promises from top brass that they intended him to play out his career in New York, the Long Island native signed a deal to stay with the MetroStars.
“Closest I ever came to having a regret,” Petke said, noting that perhaps the move to Germany was a risk worth taking.
With his love for the club and a marriage set to take place soon, Petke determined not to accept the Bayern offer and perhaps ride the bench. Kaiserslauten was “basically a cow town” he says with a chuckle. And New York, after all, is where his heart was. And still is.
Now, back with New York after a trade sent him to D.C. United and then Colorado, Petke’s historic No. 300 match puts him in elite company as he will become the 11th MLS player to reach the milestone.
His long-lasting memory on the field, he says, was his league debut in 1998 versus San Jose. It was a wild 4-3 game that went the way of the MetroStars and included a number of ejections. Playing as a left back, he remembers that he assisted on a Jim Rooney goal. Alexi Lalas put away the game winner with just seconds left in the match.
Petke has plenty of memories both old and new. Some of the best he has marked are a veritable “Who’s Who” of all-time greats, from Hristo Stoichkov to Peter Nowak, Jaime Moreno and Luis Hernandez. The best that he has ever played against, according to Petke, is Landon Donovan.
“I’m throwing him out there because he does so many little things,” Petke said. “Donovan’s a tough little guy. He’ll get right in there [in your face] when you play against him. I have plenty of respect for him.”
On Saturday night during the Red Bulls’ 1-0 loss to Seattle, Petke had a few scuffles for the ball with the Sounders’ Freddie Ljungberg. The Seattle attacker spent as much time on the ball as he did jawing with the Red Bulls—and the referees. Petke just smiled when asked about the Swedish attacker.
“That’s all he does, all game long, talking to the referees,” Petke said with a laugh. “It’s amazing with him. Here is someone who has played in the Premier League and he’s constantly complaining to the ref. You know it’s bad when the fourth referee says, ‘We don’t listen to him.’ All he does is complain."
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.