They don’t come much more New York than Mike Petke.
His Long Island drawl and no-nonsense attitude are a dead giveaway. You would also be hard-pressed to find anyone as loyal to his home team as Petke.
The first-year New York Red Bulls coach started and ended his playing career for his hometown team and used that devotion as a key selling point when vying for the vacant head coaching job over the offseason.
“He’s definitely a New York guy and he’s very passionate about that team because of his roots,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid, who will be his adversary on Sunday night when Seattle hosts New York in a nationally televised match at CenturyLink Field. “He’s always been very driven, very dedicated.”
Petke has made a dramatic climb from the first time he set foot on the pitch at CenturyLink Field in 2009 when he started at center back for New York in Sounders FC’s inaugural match. After retiring following the 2010 season, Petke transitioned into the front office, working first in business operations before moving into an assistant coaching role under Hans Backe.
When Backe left after the conclusion of his contract, the Red Bulls searched far and wide to find his replacement. All the while, Petke lobbied for the position himself and eventually his persistence paid off and he was named head coach.
That passion has translated on the field, as the Red Bulls have risen to the top of Major League Soccer with a 15-9-6 record. This despite jettisoning the likes of Wilman Conde, Rafael Marquez, Joel Lindpere and Kenny Cooper after the 2012 season, replacing them with Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola and Juninho. The Juninho experiment lasted only a few months before the team parted ways with the Brazilian set-piece specialist, but that may speak even more to Petke’s attitude.
It wasn’t working, so he changed course.
Now, he has motivated his New York side into top form, a direct reflection of its head coach’s personality throughout his 13-year MLS career.
“He got everything he could out of himself. He made the most of the talent he had. He knew what he could do and would do it well,” said Schmid, who coached Petke at the youth level at a tournament in Marseilles, France. “He was a tremendous competitor and I’m sure that competitive fire helps him as a coach.”
Petke played five seasons as a pro with the MetroStars, during which he turned down an offer to sign in Germany, opting instead to stay with his hometown team. In 2003, though, he was traded to DC United, where he played two full seasons before a midseason trade dealt him to the Colorado Rapids in 2005. He remained in Colorado through the 2008 season, but home was calling and he returned to New York with the Red Bulls before the 2009 season.
There, he was part of a rebuilding project in his final two years as a player and transitioned into the coaching ranks and rose to his current position.
On Sunday, he will return to CenturyLink Field in that role, pitting his first-place Red Bulls against second-place Sounders FC in a nationally televised duel atop the MLS Supporters’ Shield standings. Kickoff is slated for 6 pm PT.