The first time Mike Petke led the New York Red Bulls out of the tunnel as head coach, his team let a 3-1 lead against the Portland Timbers slip away to deny him an Opening Day win. In fact, it took nearly a month to get those first three points.
Those days are long gone. With three games to go, the Red Bulls are one point away from booking a ticket to the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs and lead the race for the Supporters’ Shield with 52 points, placing their head coach firmly in the discussion for Coach of the Year.
Not really in Petke’s discussion, though.
“Is someone saying that? I’m glad. Thank you very much,” Petke said about the Coach of the Year speculation on Tuesday during a conference call with members of the media. “It’s the farthest thing on my mind.”
There’s no denying the magnitude of New York’s turnaround. The Red Bulls compiled a 2-4-2 record through their first eight games, before reeling off five wins in their next six to push themselves back up the League table. Through their last five games, New York are 4-0-1 with a 10-3 goal differential.
It would be an impressive accomplishment for any coach, but perhaps doubly so for Petke, who has had to make his head coaching debut in front of the largest market in the League. The hype is lost on Petke, though.
“I’m worried about the next game,” the head coach said. “That’s honestly it. At the end of the day, the only people I would want to think that I’m Coach of the Year-worthy are my players.”
There’s still plenty for the Red Bulls to do before MLS starts handing out awards. New York still haven’t secured a spot in the postseason, and they will have to beat out the three teams sitting within three points of them in the standings to win the Shield.
“We don’t think that we’ve arrived,” Petke said. “We don’t think that we’re at the top, where we need to be, and that things are going to be easy from now on.”
The match against New England on Saturday in front of what is expected to be a full house provides a perfect opportunity for the Red Bulls to give their coach one more feather in his cap: A trip to the playoffs. Tickets can be purchased at Red Bulls Ticket Central, or by calling 877.RB.SOCCER.