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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

January 24, 2013
Mike Petke: As authentic as you can get

Mike Petke signs autographs at Lockhart Stadium the night he was drafted by the MetroStars.
Mike Petke signs autographs at Lockhart Stadium the night he was drafted by the MetroStars.
Photo by Michael Lewis
By Michael Lewis Editor

Mike Petke always has been authentic New York.

From his New York accent to his New York attitude to his New York outspokenness to his New York work ethic, he has epitomized what a New Yorker should be and what a soccer player from this area should be all about.

He always has been comfortable in his own skin. He would be the first to tell you that there were better players than him and what was on his mind.

And whether it was MetroStars or Red Bulls, he wore the team on his heart. He didn't have to tell you that. You knew that the way he played or comported himself whether it was the famous "Crime of the Century" t-shirt he, receiving a ridiculous red card for kissing the soccer ball or the way he celebrated scoring the second goal in the very first game (a friendly) at Red Bull Arena in 2010 by kissing the Red Bulls badge on his jersey.

Pure Petke, pure authentic, pure love for his team, teammates, sport and fans.

So, it is quite appropriate that Petke, one of the most popular players in team history, became the first former MetroStar and Red Bull to take on the fulltime role as head coach on Thursday (Richie Williams, another former MetroStars/Red Bulls player, also had directed the team on two occasions, but on an interim basis).

If he is as good as another former MLS player who had no previous head coaching experience -- D.C. United's Ben Olsen -- the Red Bulls should be just fine.

Petke certainly left his mark in some unique ways during his 13-year MLS career that spanned from 1998 through 2010.

Mike Petke did things his way.

In fact, it even began before he put on a shirt (we'll get to jerseys in minute).

On the night -- Jan. 31, 1998 -- he was chosen eighth overall in the MLS draft (yes, that was before it was renamed the SuperDraft) by his "hometown team," the MetroStars, at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the Bohemia, N.Y. native was ecstatic and wound up signing autographs for interested fans. If memory serves me right, I believe his cousin was at the stadium that night.

Like many players, Petke endured the deepest depths. During the nightmarish 1999 season, Petke was awarded a mind-blowing red card by referee Michael Kennedy in a home loss to D.C. United. Kennedy had called a foul on the MetroStars. He had warned Petke that if the defender kept on complaining about his fouls -- he was marking Jaime Moreno -- that he would red card him.

So, without saying anything, Petke said "he kissed the ball and I handed it to him."

Kennedy then gave Petke his marching orders. "I thought I was playing well against Jaime Moreno," Patke said. "Every time I breathed on him, he [Kennedy] called a foul. . . . If I could, I'll take that one back."

Petke certainly did not take back a well-known premeditated move in a 5-3 triumph over the Colorado Rapids the next season.

He celebrated a goal and revealed a white shirt under his MetroStars uniform that said, "Crime of the Century” on the front and “Revenge is Coming" on the back. That referred to an incident that occurred four days prior when Tampa Bay Mutiny striker Mamadou Diallo rammed into and sent goalkeeper Mike Ammann to the hospital with broken ribs. The MetroStars and fans were upset that not even a foul was called on Diallo.

If that incident did not endure him with the New York/New Jersey fans, nothing would.

Much to the chagrin of the fans, Petke was traded to D.C. United after the 2002 season, but returned in time for the 2009. By then the team had changed owners and names, now called the Red Bulls.

After connecting for the second goal in the Red Bulls' 3-1 victory over Santos FC in the grand opening of Red Bull Arena on March 20, 2010, Petke celebrated by grabbing his white shirt, kissing the stadium patch and then pumping his right fist into the air in front of the cheering supporters.

"Everybody knows how I feel about playing here in New York," Petke said. "It's where I'm from. It's not a show or anything. Through the good times and the bad, this is where I want to be. I want to help this organization win. And if I can't while I'm playing, I want to help any way I can. That was to show the fans who came out here today, you know, remind me how much I feel about this organizations and the players as well."

Petke always has put his heart and soul into whatever he has done, and that of course, includes soccer. So, his determination and passion cannot be questioned.

If teams mirror their coaches, then the 2013 version of the Red Bulls will display a lot of passion, take game seriously and leave it on the field.

If the Red Bulls play like that while combining their talent, they will be just fine, thanks to their authentic coach.
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