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Rockmonster Unplugged: Mike Petke and the difference between authentic and unacceptable

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — There has been no mainstream verification of exactly what Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke said to get suspended a total of six games (three Major League soccer contests and three of the annual Leagues Cup matches), fined $25,000, banned without pay from team activity for two weeks and ordered to get anger management training.

But there is plenty of information on how it went over with the powers that be.

MLS commissioner Don Garber termed it “repugnant language.” RSL said it supported Garber’s decision and took action on its own.

I once told Petke he was among the most authentic coaches I had ever been around. But being authentic and requiring anger management are different things.

Real Salt Lake is among the smallest markets in MLS. It knows it can’t afford to draw the league’s or public’s disapproval and it knows when things go too far. So the club came down hard on Petke.

It’s easy to appreciate Petke’s passion in his two-plus years at the team’s helm. His rant against officiating in 2017, when he distributed photocopies to media of officiating miscues, was pure gold. He began by asking media if they had their recording devices going.

He was going scorched earth.

“I am who I am,” Petke said that day. “If I don’t act the way I do, I can’t sleep for the next four weeks.”

He now has at least two weeks of sleeplessness.

Last year, he got a $10,000 fine and two-game suspension kicking a chair and publicly criticizing officiating. He challenged the league to “drain my bank account.” This time, the financial hit will surely be felt. Twenty-five thousand dollars and two weeks suspension without pay isn't small change, even for a professional soccer coach.

Petke has done much to promote Real. Raised in the New York area, he has brought an open and outspoken style to a franchise that can get overlooked, despite two MLS Cup final appearances. He followed Jeff Cassar, a courtly and likable man who was fired by the team in early 2017. Before that it was the taciturn Jason Kreis, who had two expressions: none and blank.

In terms of openness, Petke is a gift. But that doesn’t extend to direct referee abuse and unacceptable language, and that’s what it appeared to be in last week’s Leagues Cup match against Mexico's Tigres UANL. Depending on severity, if there is another serious incident, it might even result in dismissal.

The anger training likely affect the way he responds to media questions, though I’m hoping it doesn’t alter his “transparency.” This is the coach that tweeted the amount his fines, two years ago, when the league didn’t. He is active on social media, engaging fans, discussing officiating, New Jersey food, strategy. He has even apologized for past behavior.

In other words, it’s a man who seems to want to get better.

If things work out for RSL, Petke comes back with a better understanding of the difference between being open and being out of bounds.