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August 29, 2014
Mike Petke admires Ben Olsen, but rivalry continues

Mike Petke has nothing but respective for his old teammate, Ben Olsen.
Mike Petke has nothing but respective for his old teammate, Ben Olsen.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Kristian R. Dyer Contributing Editor

HANOVER, N.J. – D.C. United is in the midst of a renassaince, on the field at least, as the worst club in the league last year is now topping the Eastern Conference. And for Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke, his rival on the other bench this Sunday at RFK Stadium is a big reason why.

Despite expectations of a postseason berth, United finished last year a dismal 3-24-7, that awful season lifted only by their capture of the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup in October. Head coach Ben Olsen, who played against Petke as a member of the MetroStars and with him later on as a teammate at United, remembered Olsen as a “rugrat” as a player. This feistiness helped the United skipper keep his job despite the poor 2013 season.

Olsen has rewarded the organization's faith in him by directing his team to the top of the conference and two points shy of the Supporters Shield lead.

“It's funny, I'm trying to pick the right words here: As a friend to Ben – as a friend – not as a competitor against him, not as a rival with D.C. because I don't want it out there, our supporters or anybody to get the wrong idea – but as a friend – I'm happy for him,” Petke said after training Friday.

“Because I know he knows what he's doing coaching-wise. He comes in his first year and he goes to the Eastern Conference finals and the next year is one of the worst years in history. Does he become a bad coach overnight? No. So it's almost nice to see – again, you better get this stuff in the paper, you better not just take a little bit in the middle out and put it in there or I'll never talk to you again ..."

Petke then smiled and then continued, "again from a friendship, not a competitor – from a New York Red Bulls head coach I hate what they're doing and I hate the success they're having. But as a friend, I think it's great for him because he's a young American head coach and it's good for the league and good for him.”

To recap: Petke hates the success of D.C. United, a chief rival of the Red Bulls. But he respects Olsen's coaching job and what he has done with the team. Everyone got that, right?

It is Petke, who took over the Red Bulls after Olsen's team knocked New York out of the playoffs in 2012, and it now is Petke who is in somewhat of a similar situation as United last year. Petke's 2013 team took the Supporters Shield but has not kept a similar stride this year, struggling to stay in the playoff race. United's fall from their 2012 season was more dramatic but the point remains.

Given how impatient Red Bull management in Austria is with a lack of success, a season without the postseason could be bad news for Petke. But when talking about Olsen, he points toward patience as being a good thing in the long-term thinking of MLS.

Most teams would have canned Olsen after a season of three wins. Not United and their patience is paying off.

“One hundred percent," Petke said. "And the one thing that this league has shown, it's almost that if you do bad one year – whether it is through allocation, whether it is through extra money or having to make moves - the team usually rebounds pretty well the following year. And you see a lot vice-versa, not all times but many times a team that was successful one year often has a little bit of a dip-off.

“Not many clubs would stick with a guy like Ben, but they're loyal. One thing I remember from D.C. United playing them is that organization is loyal. They're not a quick-fix organization, they want something for the long term. If you judge by Ben's three years, he's done a hell of a lot better than bad.”
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