SANDY — For the first time since he was fired by the New York Red Bulls following the 2014 season, Mike Petke is set to coach against his former team.
You’d think emotions would be running high facing the team that axed him after two successful seasons, but Petke insists he has no hard feelings toward his former club as Real Salt Lake prepares to host the New York Red Bulls this Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“There’s nothing special about this game, it’s an opportunity for us, and I know an opportunity for them. There’s no significance to this because it’s New York,” said Petke in a Thursday's conference call with reporters. “Perhaps if I was coming back to play in Red Bull Arena there’d be a heck of a lot more significance to me. “
That moment will have to wait until next year. But by then, the significance will likely be even less.
Petke has evolved on and off the field since he was fired by New York, and one of the biggest things he’s come to realize since then is that “coaches are hired to be fired.” Knowing that, he’s tried to enjoy the ride as much as possible with RSL.
Sure, getting fired from the New York Red Bulls stung, and moving his East Coast family to the Rocky Mountains has been a major adjustment — particularly for a family that loves the beach.
But, if he were still with New York, his kids wouldn’t have access to snowboarding like they do in Utah, something they’ve really grown to love.
He’s learned to accept the turnover associated with his profession, which makes those so-called “revenge” games anything but.
“It’s about not compromising yourself, not changing who you are as a person. Who I am is who am away from the field and on the field, it’s just about enjoying every second of it. A lot of times that is very difficult to do for all coaches, to enjoy it all the time, just ride this wave of emotions,” said Petke.
Two weeks shy of his one-year anniversary with Real Salt Lake, Petke’s inaugural year has featured the gamut of emotions, with numerous highs and lows already.
Perhaps the lowest of them all came last weekend in a stunning 5-1 loss to expansion Los Angeles FC, the most goals allowed in franchise history.
Those types of lows are inevitable in the coaching profession, particularly for a young coach, something Petke considers himself in just his fourth year as a head coach.
“I have a long way to go to get to where I want to go. You learn from trial and error, and I had some very good moments in my last coaching job and I had some moments I wish I could go back and redo. For me it’s all about learning from the mistakes and moving forward,” said Petke.
Petke said he’s excited to see a few of the remaining faces from his tenure at New York, players like Bradley Wright Phillips, Luis Robles and Sean Davis. Pretty much everyone else from his time with New York is gone though, including the man who fired him, former New York Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis.
Like most in MLS, Petke found himself cheering for the New York Red Bulls earlier this week as they beat Tijuana in the second leg of its CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal to advance to the semifinals. Toronto advanced to the semifinals as well, and while Petke acknowledges the significance of those results, he believes how those results are happening is what’s most important.
“We can’t just jump on the hype train that we’ve all of a sudden had a couple of weeks and then come crashing down if something bad happens. It shouldn’t work that way, should enjoy the moment, enjoy that these teams are doing well,” said Petke. “We’re chipping away, we’re making progress and hopefully they keep doing it cause it’s not just great for their team but it’s great for the league in general.”