Young coaches who once passed and trapped in the league are all the rage.
Two years ago, Ben Olsen was plucked from the recent player rolls to take charge at D.C. United. Last year it was Jay Heaps, wearing the label of the 30-something, MLS alum, rookie manager. He’s at New England.
Now it’s Mike Petke’s turn to uphold the honor of young buck managers and former MLS men attempting to demonstrate what seems clear to some of us: that knowledge of the league trumps international soccer savvy in terms of steering clubs here.
Of course, Petke isn’t thinking about all that; he’s just trying to keep it together during a crash course on head coaching. Now on the job for about a month, it’s on Petke to squeeze the most from the New York Red Bulls talented roster, one that just might include the most skillful man ever to wear MLS colors in Thierry Henry.
As you go through your first preseason – your first days as a professional head coach –do you have moments in the day where you might feel overwhelmed?
Absolutely. Being overwhelmed is a daily thing right now. But it’s how you react to it that matters. I’ve learned very quickly that I have to take moments out of the day, whether it’s to do a crossword puzzle, call my wife, just sit in the room and close my eyes. Just those couple of minutes are very important. I don’t get those every day. But, yes, there are definitely some overwhelming moments.”
You recently hired Robin Fraser, a highly respected figure who has been an assistant coach and head coach in MLS. How much does it help having that guy next to you in daily sessions, etc.?
He brings a ton of experience that is so vital for me as a coach, and for the team. His personality gels so well not only with me, but with the team. I knew Robin before he came here for the most part, but I’ve really gotten to know him over the last couple of week. He understands, I think, how I tick. And I made it clear to him, as I would have made it clear to anybody who got the job … that I didn’t want a ‘yes’ man. I can’t have a ‘yes’ man. I need someone to challenge me, to tell me when he disagrees with me. At the end of the day, of course I am going to make the decisions. But you need that give and take with somebody.”
Fans love talking tactics. What can you tell us about the basic formation you’d like to play?
We’re going to play a variation of an attacking style of play. You can put a label on it if you like. At times it’s going to be a 4-4-2, at times it’s going to be a 4-1-3-2, at times it’s going to be a 4-2-3-1, at times it’s going to be a 4-3-3. To us, it’s what happens when we lose the ball and how we react, to win it back. So to have the offensive power of Henry, of Cahill, of Espindola [and others …] for me, at this moment, to tell them we are going to play ‘this’ system handcuffs the type players we have. Of course, there has to be a basic starting point. But they are free to flow, to interact. The beauty to me is to see, especially, Henry and Espindola when they are interchangeable. “