If 2013 is any indication of the type of head coach Mike Petke can be, the New York Red Bulls are likely to have a bright future.
One week removed from the Red Bulls' latest premature playoff exit, the fact remains that Petke surpassed many observers’ expectations by helping his club claim its first league-wide championship via the Supporters’ Shield.
“I remember sitting up in the room the second I got the job and literally staring at the wall saying, ‘Holy sh--. What do I do next?’” Petke said on Wednesday when asked about the biggest things he’s taking away from 2013. “It was just so sudden and so real that it was mind-blowing, and you just get into a groove and you go. But player managing … I had no idea, no idea how much time it takes, how difficult it is at times the decisions you make, how they affect players."
“I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about that, but also on the other side I’m a guy who knows the game," he continued. "But in the beginning, initial stages to sit down and say, ‘This is what we want to do in practice, this is how we’re going to do it, these are the corrections I have to make,’ it was overwhelming at times. But having a [good staff around me], I’ve definitely gotten a groove more with the Xs and Os as far as not just knowing it in my mind, but being able to transfer it to the field.”
Another lesson the 37-year-old Petke is currently learning is how addictive coaching can be. Petke is enjoying some downtime with his family, but a part of him is still looking back on what could have been in 2013 and what may lie ahead next season.
“There’s days that I have completely separated myself, not intentionally, but just through things I’m doing at home or spending time with kids, going to their games, things like that,” said Petke. “But there’s also days that I sit and I lose myself pretty much and just black out and really think about certain moments from the season, specifically the last two games. I’ve been around the block enough as a player, and then with the coaching staff and now as a coach, to understand that the longer you harp on things [the worse it is]. Some people say don’t forget them. I agree, but there’s also a moment when you have to let things go and look at the positives. I’m close to it. I’m not fully there yet, but I’m close to that. I find myself over the last couple of days thinking much more about preseason, next year than I am about what just happened. I’m getting there.”
Petke is entering his first full offseason at the helm of New York, and that should only benefit him and the squad. Petke talked often in 2013 about not having enough time to implement the type of style he wanted his team to play, given his late appointment as head coach, but now he will have an opportunity to do just that.
Still, Petke knows a solid foundation was built this year and that tweaking that only slightly is likely the best recipe to achieve even more success in 2014.
“Obviously we fell short of our last goal, but like I said at the last press conference, baby steps,” said Petke. “You can’t expect to turn around this franchise 100 percent in one year. I think winning the Supporters’ Shield and being the best team over the course of the 34-game season is something tremendous, and these guys have earned it, they should be proud of it. But now we look forward to next year, and the rebuilding process has started and the preparations have started.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.