There’s a lot on the mind of New York Red Bulls coach Mike Petke these days, especially after the team’s frustrating 5-4 home defeat at the hands of the Chicago Fire, but most important is the upcoming schedule and the need to replace two of his most important players. With Tim Cahill and Roy Miller leaving to meet up with their respective countries in the build-up to the World Cup, Petke is left with a squad selection dilemma, one that he isn’t prepared to rush into.
“We’re not going to whole-heartedly throw all our eggs in one basket on Tuesday afternoon and say this is our starting left back. We have three solid days of training”, Petke explained to reporters during a conference call yesterday. “The players that we have in mind are going to have very good opportunities to show us they belong playing left back this Saturday [against Toronto FC].
Talk shifted away from the left side of defense and over to the right, with the possibility of Richard Eckersley returning into the starting XI at the expense of Kosuke Kimura. Coach Petke was quick to dismiss that the blame for Saturday’s loss shouldn’t be focused on his current right back.
“Let’s make one thing clear, 90% of our team had a rough one this weekend. So it doesn’t just come down to Kosuke.” Petke stated over the phone. “It’s not a ‘push the destruct’ button to blow up the lineup and throw new players in.”
Although Petke was adamant no changes were forthcoming, he did hint at his thinking of the battle for the right back position, which includes second-round rookie Chris Duvall.
“To me there are three players competing for that spot. Chris Duvall, Richard Eckersley, and Kosuke Kimura … Chris Duvall continues to impress us, week in and week out and he’s not far out.”
With questions returning to the World Cup, Petke was asked for his thoughts on U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s 30-man provisional squad selection. The former Red Bulls star lamented a former teammate of his being left out despite a strong year.
“The one thing I was hoping for, that I think was deserving at least for the initial roster, would be Tim Ream.
“He went over to a tough league, had a bit [of a] rough go last year and, you know, next thing you know he’s [Bolton’s] Player of the Year and playing 40-something straight games and the games I’ve watched him he’s done very well at a number of positions … he did well at all of them. I thought he would possibly get a look there.”
Although the World Cup is still a month away, Petke knows his team will enjoy the 19-day break that the MLS schedule has granted them. However, the possibility of a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game in the middle of that is cause for concern.
“Hopefully U.S. soccer does its’ part and doesn’t schedule its’ Open Cup games right in the heart of [the 19-day break], which would be counter-productive as far as getting these guys some rest.
“I believe the possible dates are the 11th, 14th, and the 18th [of June].” Petke said while mulling over his calendar. “I believe there was a league vote and I believe that the majority of the owners and GMs and coaches voted for the 11th and then we have a couple of weeks off that we can give [our players] significant time to rest.
“We have a very front-loaded schedule, we’ve played two more games than most teams, we’ve had our first nine out of 15 on the road, so obviously our guys need some rest and it’s a World Cup break.”
Regardless of the potential scheduling headaches and squad selection dilemmas the second-year head coach faces, he and his team are solely focused on this Saturday’s Eastern conference match-up with Toronto FC. One fact that will help Petke rest easier is the torrid streak that strike Bradley Wright-Phillips is on, having scored eight goals in his last four league games. For Petke, the game plan is simple:
“What we need for him to do is to keep that confidence and keep going.”