HARRISON, N.J. – It took a few months, but Mike Petke finally misses playing the game.
Last year was Petke's final season as a player. His career took him to the Colorado Rapids and D.C. United, but in 2008 Petke returned to the franchise that drafted him in 1998. He remains a fan favorite in the New York area and is known by many as simply "The Legend."
Following his retirement at the end of the 2010 season, Petke has integrated into a hybrid role with the team, working as an assistant coach and also spending time in the front office learning the inner workings of the club.
But a few weeks ago, before one of the club’s preseason games in Arizona, Petke got sentimental.
“I was out there, kicking the ball with Tim Ream, helping him warm up before the game,” Petke told MLSsoccer.com. “I realized then how much I wanted to go back out there and play. For the first time, it hit me. I was like, ‘Wow, I am going to miss this.’”
[inline_node:317457]His new responsibilities with the club blend his passion for the team with the veteran leadership he showed on and off the field last year.
Head coach Hans Backe credited Petke last year as being an inspiration during team training, a player who never gave up or slacked off despite a diminished role on the field come game day.
On more than one occasion, a younger player found himself on the receiving end of a Petke slide tackle during a small-sided game at practice. The rookie would get up chewing grass from the tackle and Petke would give that shrug only a veteran can give to a younger player who wasn’t giving his all during training.
That same intensity fuels Petke now. His role has changed, but his passion for New York hasn’t.
“We bring it and must bring it every day. That’s my mentality and always will be my mentality,” Petke said. “The fans don’t pay money to see us give half an effort. They want to see the best from us. We need to find that every day in training, if it is cold and raining or hot outside and the sweat is pouring off of you. That’s what playing this sport and what playing for the Red Bulls should be all about.”
Petke works specifically with the younger players on the squad but gets actively involved in the daily training regimen with Backe and assistant coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen.
[inline_node:305977]Having been on the field last year and played so many seasons with the club, he can appreciate and understand what the players are going through, giving him a unique perspective. Given the recent coaching changes to the club that saw assistant coach Richie Williams and goalkeeper coach Des MacAleenan both let go, Petke’s role has nevertheless remained the same.
“There hasn’t been or wasn’t going to be a title change for me,” Petke said. “I am still doing the same thing and plan on that. I’ve always seen myself as the third of four coaches on the team.”
Petke admits to a bit of a lifestyle culture shock now he has more of a 9-to-5 job, and though some Red Bulls fans might dream of Petke running onto the field again as part of the starting XI, that's not in the cards, he said.
“I’m in the worst shape I’ve been in 20 years, and to be honest, I sort of like it,” Petke said, grinning. “But I’m going to start working out again soon and getting back into shape real soon, I swear it. But I have to admit, it is fun telling others to run and not having to do it yourself.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer
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