It’s been a trying and often frustrating month for the Red Bulls and Mike Petke. The team endured its’ longest winless streak since 2010, including two home defeats, and were losing players to international call-ups with tough opponents still to come. After three straight defeats, things could have gotten worse but they didn’t. In Kansas City, Thierry Henry moved closer to setting the franchise all-time assist record when he provided Bradley Wright-Phillips with a well-placed through-ball to run onto and the English striker made no mistake. It was the Red Bulls’ first point in nearly a month.
A draw over second-place Sporting KC was a step in the right direction but asking for more out of a squad that would also be without Henry, Dax McCarty and Jamison Olave due to the turf field conditions and a knee injury to McCarty, against a red-hot first-place New England squad on the road appeared to be a tall order. However, a team with three MLS rookies in their back four, including a teenager making his first league start, helped shut out a team who had scored 16 goals over their previous five games.
Goalkeeper Luis Robles summed the team’s attitude post-game: “Losing three in a row you can start to point fingers at people, but that doesn’t happen here. The guys are very positive, and everyone believes in each other. That’s our belief. We knew we could get three points this week and we did.”
Mike Petke echoed his star keeper’s sentiments during this week’s conference call, “The fact of the matter is that that was a performance [where] they stepped up. They absolutely took the opportunity and they worked hard and did some very good things out there to get the result. We all thought it was important to go into this break on a high note and we have.”
Petke has not missed an opportunity to heap praise on his young players. They have been forced into action in their rookie seasons and performed admirably, especially against top MLS competition.
“It was huge for me, personally, and it was huge for them obviously and for the team. It’s just been a couple of games for Chris Duvall and one game for Matt Miazga, but it’s proven to be the right move for us. I was very proud of both of them [against New England]. They have great heads on their shoulders. They know that it was an opportunity that was given to them and they took full advantage of it.”
Asked about the potential for more starts down the line, Petke replied “Now it’s on them to keep going and to dedicate themselves to making it very difficult for me to make those decisions, whether to put them in or not.”
What lies ahead for the team is the World Cup break: a MLS-wide two-week-plus reprieve. However, the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup beckons this Saturday night and the Red Bulls have been drawn against local NASL side, the New York Cosmos. Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese, an ex-MetroStar and one of Mike Petke’s former teammates, has claimed that the Cosmos “have nothing to lose”. Petke was asked about the comments,
“I would agree with [Savarese] that the Cosmos have nothing to lose at all,” Petke said before adding that he doesn’t “have or feel any pressure at all”. Asked whether the match means more to the Cosmos and the NASL, Petke replied, “Perhaps those are the right questions to be asking Giovanni and the Cosmos … I’m gonna make sure that my guys are up for it but, obviously, this is a huge, huge thing for the Cosmos and the NASL.”
Asked about the team’s preparations for this Saturday night’s match-up, Petke claimed there would be no difference in planning for the Cosmos as they would for any MLS team:
“We’re not scouting this game any more and certainly not any less than we would scout New England or Toronto or whoever we’re gonna play. It’s a game we might not repeat again. We want to win, we’re preparing for it, so we treat it the same way.”
Finally, the Red Bulls head coach was asked about Luis Robles’ understudy Ryan Meara. Meara, the 31st overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, has made 18 MLS starts and has played in two U.S. Open Cup matches with New York. Petke was asked about the possibility of Meara getting his first start of the year this weekend.
“100%. 100%. His lack of playing time has nothing to do with him as a player or how he’s done in training. It obviously has to do with sitting behind, right now, one of the hottest, if not the hottest, goalkeepers in the league. Part of me feels terrible for Ryan because he is a phenomenal goalkeeper and he has such a future. But at this moment he’s behind somebody who is doing extremely well. So, yes, for sure the Cosmos game is a great opportunity for him.”
Petke added, “I’m sure he knows that his time is gonna come at some point.”
That next chance may very well come at Shuart Stadium, home of the Cosmos, on Saturday night. With a win, the Red Bulls would advance to the fifth round that is scheduled to take place on June 24-25. That would force the Red Bulls to play two games over a three-day period for the second month in a row.
For now, though, Petke and his Red Bulls are focused on Saturday night and a much-needed break next week.