Mike Petke knows a thing or two about the New York - DC United rivalry. After all, he spent a number of seasons on the pitch for both sides, before retiring after the 2010 season and assuming the role of assistant coach with New York.
Petke caught up with NewYorkRedBulls.com following Wednesday's training session to discuss the long-standing rivalry, his role as both a player and a coach and New York's valiant win over DC Sunday night at Red Bull Arena.
Having been on both sides of the New York-DC rivalry, what went through your mind Sunday night?
First and foremost it’s great to come out with the win. But that game right there, I believe, does a huge thing for MLS soccer in general. Especially for this year. Anybody who saw that game, whether you know everything or nothing about soccer, you walk away with a smile on your face. It was end-to-end, it was a great possession game and there was five goals scored. A phenomenal full house, and that’s the beauty of the game right there.
As a former player for both teams, what would normally go into your pre-game psyche as you prepped for a game like that, no matter what side you were on?
Take my rookie year. You know, just being thrown into it and not knowing the history – well, there wasn’t much history there, but not knowing the bitterness between the two, I was happy to be out there. From the second year and on I was amped up for that game. I got a couple of red cards throughout the years in those games, scored a couple of goals, for both teams actually in the rivalry, and it’s just one of those things that for a young league like us to have a rivalry and – not a true derby since it’s not the same city – but, you know, the American version of the Derby, it’s very important. It really gets fans and the team really pumped up. I made sure to walk around the locker room leading up to this game to the young guys and the new guys saying, ‘Listen, you know, if you don’t know anything about this rivalry, get on your computer, research it, or ask me. I don’t want you showing up that day and thinking it’s just like any old game.' And they got the picture.
What about extracting yourself from the game as a player and seeing it from the eyes of a coach now?
Oh it’s horrible. I hate it. I hated sitting on the bench with that crowd, with the fight that was going on on the field. You want to be involved in that more than just sitting on the sidelines watching. But it’s good to see some guys, most guys, get into it and realize what it is and almost live a little bit through them.
Having been a part of the rivalry at such an early stage, and seeing how it’s progressed over the years – not necessarily just on the field – but when you looked around at Red Bull Arena, the place was packed. You’ve seen Giants Stadium, RFK, and now this place…how has it grown?
There’s been many games throughout the last 13 years, 14 years, where I’ve scratched my head and said, ‘Uh, this is really a rivalry?’ It just hasn’t panned out. But many games have. That was, I think, the greatest environment I’ve been a part of for a rivalry like that. And there’s been many classic games between us, but I think that’s going to go down as possible the best rivalry game we’ve had with them.
Bigger picture now. Seeing how DC is playing this year as opposed to last year, where they are with the Red Bulls right now in the standings, do you see this thing possibly brewing into a postseason battle as well?
Well, if it does I hope that we have home-field advantage, to be honest with you. DC’s a very good team. Ben Olsen’s a very good friend of mine. I played with him for many years and I couldn’t be happier for him. He got thrown into a situation that he really didn’t have that much experience, but he had the respect of the organization and the players, so they threw him in there and he’s done great with them. But you know, I could definitely see us meeting them down the road in some sort of important game. Yeah, definitely some time this year.