Each and every time a new manager lands in Major League Soccer, someone invariably asks me: “What do you think of this guy?”
And my answer is always the same. “We’ll see.”
It sounds like a lame-o cop-out, I know. It’s not. It’s the only reasonable man’s response; I generally go on to explain:
The answers are always easy at first. Ideally, anyone worth his weight in practice jerseys understands how to rise and shine in theory.
At the introductory news conference, wisdom flows freely and the solutions reveal themselves like pretty spring flowers at the first warmth of March.
So, I say, “Let’s see what happens when the first real problems come a’ knockin’. Let’s see how he handles the first sticky-wicket locker room issue. Let’s see how he deals with injuries and let’s see if the pressure of the first losing streak – and it’s out there, somewhere – begins to chip away at the all the idealistic resolve.”
A manager’s job does not really start until the first problems come along. It’s how these guys deal with the wrecks, all the little fender benders and all the ugly pile-ups, too, that make them successes or failures in the coaching biz.
Well, Mike Petke is about to reveal himself a little. The New York Red Bulls rookie manager didn’t need long before wading knee deep into a muddy field.
I’m not saying Petke can or cannot adjust, overcome and adapt. I’m just saying, “We’ll see.”
For the second consecutive week, Petke’s team blew a lead and looked rather unable, ill equipped, unwilling or something in between to deal with a second half that needed some figuring out. Leadership and know-how were required but turned up conspicuously missing one more time late Sunday as San Jose rallied for two late goals in a 2-1 win at Buck Shaw Stadium.
The issues to deal with, in brief:
- New York fell completely to pieces in the final 10 minutes.
- It all started with the visitors being completely impotent in dealing with San Jose’s high pressure; Petke’s side simply could not move the ball out of its own end.
- The team paid a high price for left back Roy Miller’s awful spell; he made at least three critical errors in the utter fiasco that was his team’s last 10 minutes late Sunday.
- Finally, if Thierry Henry sprinkled a few seeds of discord with his unflattering comments last week about the collective wisdom of his teammates, what in the world might the demanding Frenchman say now?
For his part, Petke is already hinting at how the team may need to adjust to handle the next similar situation.
“We need guys to man up and take control and battle. That’s what we need, especially late in games.
“They put three forwards up top, they really pushed the play. We’re supposed to bypass their front line and possess in their end of the field. For some reason, we didn’t have guys who wanted to possess it tonight.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to really rethink if we’re going to be a possession team. because if we can’t be or we refuse to be, then I’m going to bring on guys who can win head balls and just hammer the ball 60, 70 yards up every game and maybe get a flick up and score.”
Now, before we start shoveling any dirt on graves or anything like that, this should be said: the Red Bulls season opened with two fairly difficult road trips. Getting back home this week (in the team’s home opener Saturday against D.C. United – “Rivalry Week,” you know …) should help ease a bit of the stress and strain.