Mike Petke and the Red Bulls head to RFK Stadium to face D.C. United on Saturday night.
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Petke boasts long history with D.C. United

He was younger back then, barely into his third year in MLS and boasting blonde hair that’s become a thing of the past.

Mike Petke was a rising star in MLS a decade ago, when he scored a goal in overtime at RFK Stadium to give the MetroStars a win over the reigning MLS Cup champion D.C. United.

His reward? He says he was accidentally punched when he jumped into the crowd of New York supporters to celebrate, hardly the way his biggest fans intended on praising a guy that helped the club win the Eastern Division and reach the postseason.

He can laugh it off now, but in 2000, the MetroStars were coming off a last-place finish the year before. This year, the Red Bulls are hoping that some of the Petke magic will rub off on a New York club hoping to erase their own demons from the year before.

“It’s always a bit of motivation, the way we’re treated by the fans,” Petke said of the hostile environment the team faces in D.C.

Petke was with D.C. United from 2003 through 2005 after a trade sent him from the MetroStars to the team’s most-hated rival.

Having been on both sides of the support at RFK Stadium, his emotions are fittingly mixed: “It is a place I love and hated to play in.”

And while Petke may not find the back of the net on Saturday like he did 10 years ago, he will be counted on a different way. A young player who was a fan favorite, Petke still elicits the same cheers and fanaticism from the New York fans as he did when he was first drafted in 1998.

As a veteran, however, his experience is being counted on in different ways – now as a leader.

“We definitely talk to Mike and get advice from him,” said first-year midfielder Joel Lindpere. “He’s a leader on this team, along with Juan [Pablo Angel]. We are fortunate to be able to have leaders like that.”

And Petke is preaching to the team to come out fighting on Saturday. United, according to Lindpere, will come out flying and looking to avoid a winless start through five games.

Petke, the former MetroStars legend who once called RFK home before returning to New York, is wary.

“You never count a team out like that,” Petke said.

Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.