Mike Petke

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on New York Red Bulls ahead of Sunday’s match at Houston

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Ahead of Sunday’s first-leg of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about Mike Petke’s Red Bulls (Sunday’s match kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC):

  • A team of lunch pail toilers

In a lot of ways, managing in this league is about navigating Major League Soccer’s restrictive salary cap. More specifically, where do you put your bargain guys? Because every team has quite a few of them.

For the Red Bulls, the lower salary guys are on the flanks, where Eric Alexander (right) and Jonny Steele (left) have gotten almost all of the starts this year. Both are consummate MLS toilers, quick into the tackle, quick to drive the team forward with some energ, always OK with finding Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill as quickly as possible, 100 percent amenable with letting the pricey types do what they are so handsomely paid to do.

In a lot of ways, Steele and Alexander represent the team in manager Mike Petke’s image more than the stars. Dax McCarty certainly does; the Red Bulls scrappy, busy midfield harrier remains in constant motion, interrupting passing lanes and making himself ever available as the defenders’ initial outlet.

Petke wasn’t a star guy, of course, during his not-so-distant playing days; he was a lunch pail guy in his years as a player for the New York organization.

(MORE: PST previews Dynamo-Red Bulls)

  • Thierry Henry can still score a crackerjack, can’t he?

Of course, even a team of toilers loves to have a guy around who can score (and inspire) with highlight-making goals. That’s Henry, a studious, intelligent soccer man who always knows how to save a little for the stretch-run.

We all remember that fabulous hit just last week against Chicago, right?



Here’s the thing with Henry: he took some flak from names in the game for his choice not to go play on the artificial turf in Seattle late in the year, and fair enough. But the man knows his body, and can we just see his side for a second?

Maybe, just maybe, if Henry does go play on the artificial turf in Seattle, perhaps he aggravates those heel issues and then doesn’t have that kind of a goal in him. Maybe.

  • The key to the offense is … Peguy Luyindula?

Can it really be that a team blessed with talented types like Henry and Cahill is having its offensive strings pulled by … a guy whose name most of us cannot pronounce? Looks like it.

Peguy Luyindula had two assists last week, and he seems to have found role at the top of the Red Bulls’ midfield diamond.

Here’s the thing about New York’s attack in 2013: Henry could probably perform the creative duty, and does so to an extent, but usually as his team moves in closer to opposition goal. He is a forward in the Red Bulls’ typical 4-4-2 setup, so when Henry drifts too far back into the midfield, the team can sometimes suffer in getting enough men into the attack. We’ve seen that happen over the last two or three years in Harrison, N.J.

Tim Cahill can man the attacking midfield role, but it’s clearly not his best spot.

The team thought it had the answer in Brazilian technician Juninho, but he proved too old and washed out by mid-season. (I mean, who saw that coming? Oh, wait a minute … ) That left the club without anything close to a true playmaker. Until Luyindula’s arrival into the role, that is.

(MORE: CSN Houston’s video preview of Dynamo-Red Bulls)

  • Luis Robles in charge

If we’re being honest, most observers didn’t expect to see Luis Robles between the pipes for the Red Bulls by this time of the year.

Ryan Meara, who was so good last year before injury chopped down his potential Rookie of the Year campaign, seemed to be getting healthy and fit in the preseason. And Robles, who was more or less out of the professional game with the club picked him up late last year, seemed prone to gaffes, like a couple that really hurt the Red Bulls early this year.

But Robles settled into the role and has established himself as a dependable man behind commanding center back Jamison Olave and the Red Bulls’ back line.

Oh, and he makes the occasional big save, too, which is exactly what you want from a goalkeeper. His big, diving reach into the upper corner during the team’s last trip into South Texas was truly outstanding stuff.

  • Fastest goal in MLS history

We cannot really talk about this year’s lopsided series (New York won all three meetings, including two in Houston by a stunning combined score of 7-1) without mentioning Tim Cahill’s early goal as the teams met at BBVA Compass Stadium two weeks ago.

It was the fastest goal in MLS history. In fact, let’s not talk about it. Let’s just watch the darn thing:


Friday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Messi to Man City for $1.2 million per week

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 05:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (R) hugs his Head coach Josep Guardiola of FC Barcelona after scoring his team's third goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on May 5, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. This is the last match as head coach of FC Barcelona for Josep Guardiola at the Camp Nou Stadium.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The rumor mill is officially wide open.

After reports came out yesterday that Pep Guardiola could be on his way to manage Manchester City next season, today they are saying Guardiola could be in for a reunion at the Etihad with Lionel Messi.

[ WATCH: PL TV Schedule — Week 14 ]

The Sun is reporting that Messi’s camp has had discussions about a move to Manchester City that would see the superstar take in a ridiculous $1.2 million in weekly wages. With both Messi and Neymar in need of new contracts at Barcelona, it is believed that the club would not be able to afford both players, making a move for one of them a possibility.

If Guardiola was to move to Man City, he would have quite the pull in trying to lure Messi there as well, as the two achieved unparalleled success together at Barca. City’s massive finances and Messi’s ongoing tax issues in Spain make a move to Manchester a possibility.

Andre Ayew’s time at Swansea City could be shorter than expected, as Liverpool is reportedly interested in bringing the winger to Anfield. Ayew moved to Wales from French side Marseille this summer and has been brilliant for Garry Monk, scoring six goals through 13 matches. Speaking to French radio station RMC, Ayew admitted he had gotten offers from bigger clubs, and has put teams on high alert as he said that although he is happy at Swansea, “Now, I am ambitious and we will see what happens.”

[ RELATED: Manchester United send James Wilson on loan to Brighton ]

Tottenham are hopeful they can fend off the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, as the two are keen to move Harry Kane away from White Hart Lane. With Radamel Falcao‘s loan a flop and reported tension between Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho, Chelsea is believed to be preparing a bid for the Spurs striker, who has scored nine goals in his past six games for Tottenham.

In other news, often-troubled midfielder Ravel Morrison is on his way back to England after leaving Italian side Lazio for “personal reasons.” Morrison came up through the Manchester United academy before moving to West Ham and bouncing around on a few loan deals. Still 22-years-old, it is believed Morrison could look to rejoin the Hammers or Queens Park Rangers, who he played for in 2014.

Manchester United loan young striker James Wilson to Brighton & Hove Albion

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28:  James Wilson of Manchester United takes on George Friend (L) and Daniel Ayala of Middlesbrough during the Capital One Cup Fourth Round match between Manchester United and Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on October 28, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United has sent 19-year-old James Wilson on a season-long loan to Championship side Bright and Hove Albion.

The striker signed a new contract with United earlier this year, but has seen limited playing time under Louis Van Gaal, making just one Premier League appearance this season.

[ MORE: Klopp on Sturridge setback ]

Many have called for Wilson to get more of a run with the first team, as United has had a bit of a struggle to score goals this season. With Wilson being one of the only true striker options for Van Gaal, this move may come as a bit of a surprise.

Van Gaal himself admitted that some may not be happy with the move, but said it would be better for the player’s development to get more minutes at Brighton.

Players of his age need to play and I can imagine that fans are saying that this is ridiculous, they have difficulties to score, but that is a short-term thought.

We have to think what is better for a player like Wilson and at the moment he does not have too many possibilities to play on a higher level. We believe in him so he has to develop himself elsewhere. If we need him, we can call him back.

Wilson burst onto the scene at United during Ryan Giggs‘ short stint as interim manager, scoring twice in his Premier League debut against Hull City. However, he has featured almost exclusively for the reserves under LVG and will now spend the rest of the season away from Old Trafford.

[ RELATED: Aston Villa’s Grealish sent down to U21’s after heavy partying ]

Brighton currently sits tied at the top of the Championship table, the only remaining team without a loss in league play. Despite the Seagulls’ hot start to the campaign, they haven’t been the most potent attacking side, as their leading scorer Tomer Hemed has just five goals and hasn’t tallied since September.

Klopp gives update on Sturridge injury; Henderson close to return

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC
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LIVERPOOL — Jurgen Klopp has confirmed that Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge has suffered a setback in his latest return from injury.

[ MORE: Costa out at Chelsea? ]

Klopp stated that Sturridge — who has yet to play for the German coach since he arrived at the club as manager in October — has been stepping up his recovery from a knee problem but it is now believed the England international, 26, has suffered a new foot injury which makes him a big doubt for their game against Swansea City at Anfield (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) on Sunday.

Speaking to the assembled media at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, Klopp said Sturridge’s latest setback isn’t serious but he’s isn’t sure if he will be available to return to action in the coming days as confusion remains.

“We have to accept the situation and that is Danny was very often injured in last few months and maybe years,” Klopp said. “Everybody wants him back on the pitch but we all have to learn the situation. It’s not that serious. It’s completely normal after a long injury. We have to stay patient. Usually, in a perfect world, you should train five weeks in a row when you have been out this long like in preseason. But we know the world is not perfect so we have to try the best and quickest way.”

“The training for him was intensive, how it should be and we had some new things to talk about. We had to make some assessment and that’s what we did so now we can say it is not that serious but it is not possible to go on as before. We have to react to a situation and that is completely normal after a long injury.”

Asked if Sturridge could return this weekend, Klopp simply said: “I don’t know,” but it will certainly be a big worry that Liverpool’s star striker has suffered yet another injury after spending most of the last 12 months on the sidelines with thigh, hip and knee issues. Sturridge scored twice against Aston Villa during a three-game comeback spell at the end of September and start of October in Brendan Rodgers‘ final games in charge but injured his knee in Klopp’s first week at the club. He was fit enough to make the bench during Liverpool’s 4-1 demolition of Manchester City last week but has since been sent for scans on his foot injury.

[ MORE: Guardiola offered Man City job ]

Liverpool’s manager also confirmed that captain Jordan Henderson— who has been out since September with a broken foot suffered in training — has been knocking down his door to get back as soon as possible.

“Henderson wants (to come back), I can say that,” Klopp laughed. “But we have to wait to see how he adapts to training. If we see he is ready he will join in our game as he is an important player for us. I try to give myself the time to decide until tomorrow or Sunday when I have the latest information about how intensive the game yesterday was. All the players from yesterday were in good shape. ”

With Philippe Coutinho also struggling with a knock and Lucas missing this weekend through yellow card accumulation, Klopp was pleased that former Swansea City midfielder Joe Allen played 60 minutes against Bordeaux in the 2-1 Europa League win on Thursday night and praised the Welshman.

Klopp danced around questions about Liverpool challenging for the title after impressive away wins at Chelsea and Man City have got people talking, but if the Reds beat a Swansea side who have only won once in their last eight games, and other results go their way, they could be just five points off the top heading into December.

Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri: Our goal is 40 points

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When Claudio Ranieri was brought into Leicester City this summer, he set a goal for the club: Get 40 points and stay up in the Premier League.

A third of the way through the season, Ranieri has far exceeded expectations, sitting top of the table with 28 points through 13 matches.

[ WATCH: PL TV Schedule — Week 14 ]

Originally thought of as a favorite for relegation, the perception of Leicester has changed very quickly, as both Arsene Wenger and Louis Van Gaal said you could not rule them out as title contenders.

Responding to Wenger’s comments, Ranieri played down the Foxes’ title chances, saying their goal is still to get 40 points and stay above the drop.

Thank you to Arsene but he’s a joker. He knows the truth very well. The league is very strange and open but our goal is 40 points.

Our goal at the moment is this but let me see the next two months and then maybe I change the goal.

Like everybody else I am also curious in these days to watch my team, and to see how we respond in these big matches.

At this point last season, Leicester sat bottom of the table with a record of 2-4-7 and ten points. Today, Leicester is top of the table with a record of 8-4-1 and 28 points. Under Nigel Pearson, the Foxes won just 11 games all of last season, with seven of those coming from the final nine matches in a legendary run to stave off relegation.

[ RELATED: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks — Week 14 ]

With a tough run of matches coming up against the likes of Manchester United, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City, Ranieri is trying to keep his side in check, knowing you can never take anything for granted in the Premier League. However, if Leicester was to pull out a win over United on Saturday, Foxes’ fans will certainly have much higher hopes than 40 points.