The New York Red Bulls (17-9-8, 59 pts.) had a remarkable season by winning its first MLS Supporters’ Shield and finishing atop the Eastern Conference with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. With names such as former French international Thierry Henry, Australian World Cupper Tim Cahill and stalwart Colombian defender and MLS veteran Jamison Olave in its line-up, it was easy to look among the stars for the catalyst, but not this time. The true force behind the successful 2013 New York Red Bulls is the unlikely hero and first-year head coach, Mike Petke.
New Yorker Petke, from Bohemia (Long Island), was a long shot to coach the team until negotiations with a high-level European coach broke off just before the start of pre-season and Petke was called in. The former Southern Connecticut University defensive standout – who was drafted by the first MLS franchise in the metropolitan area, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, in 1998 and ended his career in 2011 with the New York Red Bulls – had no head coaching experience at the professional level; he was an assistant with previous coach Hans Bake for two seasons and the expectations were modest. It was a shot in the dark!
Petke went on to make MLS history as the first-year head coach to accumulate the most points in a regular season with 59, which won the Shield. He was known to have a passion, not only for the game, but for the club. In fact, when he came back to the Red Bulls in 2009 after four years with the Colorado Rapids, he made his intentions clear when, in his statement in the Red Bulls media guide, he said that he was back to lead the team to its first MLS championship; well it didn’t happen as a player, but that goal could well be realized as the head coach.
The former defender weathered a few storms throughout the year; the team was winless in its first four games of the season then was very inconsistent throughout the first part of the campaign. The inconsistency mounted in April when, after an embarrassing road loss, a furious Petke declared in a postgame interview that “we should have stayed at home.” A seven-game unbeaten stretch in early May settled the team.
The now famous argument and subsequent falling-out with captain Henry when the two argued over tactical issues that led to Henry being benched the next game was probably the turning point in the season and in Petke’s career. He sent a clear message that this first-year coach was in charge and would make the tough decisions to maintain control, when he benched Henry, the club’s franchise player and captain. At that point, if he hadn’t before, Petke commanded respect from all corners. Henry and his coach made up and the team moved on to the Supporters’ Shield and into the playoffs.
In the first leg of the two-game Eastern conference semifinal series, the Red Bulls tied host Houston Dynamo, 2-2, at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 3, on goals by Tim Cahill and Eric Alexander. Cahill scored in the he 22nd minute from a header off an Henry cross and in the 32nd, it was Alexander who was on the end of a Cahill pass on the way to a run down the right side; Alexander cut the ball back to his left foot and beat Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall at the near, right post. Former U. S. international Ricardo Clark (65th) and Jamaican international Omar Cummings (92nd) led Houston to the draw.
If New York wins the series on aggregate goals (second leg scheduled for Wed. Nov. 6, Red Bull Arena), it will play the winner of the New England Revolution-Sporting Kansas City series for the Eastern Conference finals and a berth to MLS CUP. The Revolution won the first leg at home. If the Red Bulls advance to the Eastern Conference finals, the games will be nationally televised on NBC Sports and are scheduled for Saturday Nov. 9 (2:30 p.m.) away and Saturday, Nov. 23 (7:30 p.m.) at Red Bull Arena.
In other MLS playoffs results, the Portland Timbers beat host Seattle Sounders, 2-0, in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals; in the other semifinal matchup, host Los Angeles Galaxy squeaked by conference leader Real Salt Lake, 1-0, in their first encounter. The semifinal winners will contest the Western Conference final.
The 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship pairings are complete as eight teams will compete for three berths in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada next year. The CONCACAF tournament will be played in the Cayman Islands, Jan. 9-19, 2014.
The teams will play in two groups of four, with the top two in each group going to the semifinals. Group A has defending champion USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Guatemala. Group B consists of Mexico, Cayman Islands, Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago. The USA has won three of the four tournaments staged; Canada won the other.
Mexico defeated Argentina on Tuesday in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup for boys and will play Nigeria in the final on Friday, Nov. 8 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab emirates. Defending champion Mexico is seeking its third U-17 title. Ivan Ochoa scored twice in the first 21 minutes of play to carry Mexico to a 2-0 halftime lead. Marco Granados scored Mexico’s third goal.