New York Red Bulls’ Mike Petke backs Luis Robles after gaffe, but predicts "royal rumble" for No. 1 spot

New York Red Bulls fans may be growing concerned with the play of goalkeeper Luis Robles after his latest head-scratching blunder, but one person who is not is head coach Mike Petke.

Petke backed his starting goalkeeper in a media conference call on Tuesday afternoon, saying that mistakes like the one Robles committed late in the Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over Toronto FC this past Saturday happen to all players.

Robles has received a good amount of criticism for the error at BMO Field, which allowed Toronto FC to pull level in the waning moments of a match that the Red Bulls seemed to have well under control.

Toronto FC 1, New York Red Bulls 2 | MLS Match Recap

The veteran 'keeper roamed well off his line on an 83rd-minute free kick that seemed harmless, and that decision allowed Toronto to find a spectacular equalizer before Tim Cahill mustered up some magic of his own to win the game for New York right before the death, heroics that earned him MLS Player of the Week honors.

“The thing that upset me initially is not that he came out. Just plain and simple that he came out into 20 guys at the top of the 18[-yard box],” said Petke of Robles' decision on the play that led to Toronto’s goal. “What it was is the amount of time spent in the pre-game leading up to the week, how we knew they were a direct team, how we knew that their free kicks all the way back to midfield always go to the box.

“The message was: 90 percent of them went into the top of the 18. They’re not going to score from there. It’s impossible to for them to score a header from there … It was tough to watch. He was very aggressive on it and he made a decision and stuck with it, but the decision was obviously not right. That’s where I am on the goal. It happens, we bounced back phenomenally and got the three points.”

Petke may have been supportive of Robles - who also made a costly mistake in a loss to the Chicago Fire earlier this season - even after a near game-changing gaffe in Toronto, but the Red Bulls head coach stopped short of saying the 28-year-old was the de facto No. 1.

VOTE: Red Bulls Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry nominated for MLSsoccer.com's Top 3 of the Month

Robles has started every game this season for New York, but last year’s starter, Ryan Meara, and veteran Kevin Hartman are making their way back to full fitness and will compete for the starting job when they are ready.

“Just like every single [position] on this team, it’s always going to be a royal rumble,” said Petke. “I’m looking for everybody to separate themselves at their given position. If I have two players at one position and one’s been playing and the other one is just pretty much even with him, well, that’s not enough to win that spot.

“I need somebody to step above and that goes all the way from the forwards back to the goalies. And when [Meara and Hartman] get back and healthy, I’ve always said, it’s going to be a great battle.”

READ: Cahill more concerned with New York's team unity: "There's more to this game than goals"

Meara and Hartman did not get an opportunity to play in New York’s reserve game vs. Toronto FC this past weekend, as it was postponed at Toronto’s request because of their looming Amway Canadian Championship match vs. the Montreal Impact on Wednesday.

The two netminders did, however, play 45 minutes each in a match against Red Bulls academy players that was organized by New York.

“Feedback was that there wasn’t a ton of action, but the action that they got was very promising and they were good,” said Petke. “Specifically, Ryan, with his [hip] injuries, looks to be coming along great and they are getting that much closer.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.