Master motivator: How Mike Petke helped young New York Red Bulls break 20-game streak

The New York Red Bulls entered Sunday's tilt against the New England Revolution on a four-game winless streak, with a severely depleted roster and knowing they had not won at Gillette Stadium in almost 12 years. They still came out with the full three points, and a motivational move from Mike Petke may have played a big part.

Although a grass surface was used at Gillette Stadium for Friday night's Mexico-Portugal friendly match, the surface had been removed by Sunday in favor of the Revolution's normal artificial surface. That virtually ensured that New York starters Thierry Henry and Jámison Olave would not play, leaving an already shorthanded Red Bulls side to have to rely even more on its reserves.

“I thought about that – perhaps a little bit of gamesmanship on my part with them," said Petke, "but I said, ‘This is what they think of you. They’re really focused on two guys who won’t make it, and they don’t think much of you.'

"By all means, I’m not saying that that is the reason why we got the result, but I wanted them to have a chip on their shoulder about that, and perhaps they did a little bit.”

While the Red Bulls' available players turned in an admirable performance, the club still needed a career game from goalkeeper Luis Robles to pick up their first win in New England since 2002, breaking a 20-game winless streak (0-14-6) in MLS and playoff action.

Robles dazzled from start to finish, making nine saves – plus a diving stop nominated for Save of the Week even though he wasn't credited with a save because the ball came off his teammate – and leading a New York side that was missing five starters.

“Luis, like he has all year, has made some key saves for us, 100 percent,” said Petke. “Obviously I am a little concerned with how we gave up some of the opportunities we did, but it’s a great feeling to know you have someone back there who, nine out of 10 times, feels like he is going to make those saves.”

Plenty of other Red Bulls players had memorable evenings. Eighteen-year-old Matt Miazga made his first MLS start and looked solid next to Armando, Péguy Luyindula helped carry the offensive load with one of his best games of the season, and Eric Alexander scored an opportunistic goal that set the tone for the victory.

All in all, a complete team effort, just what Petke had hoped for.

"It’s a group mentality," said Luyindula, who scored the insurance tally in the second half. “When [regulars] are not there, the guys who have to play have to step up on the field, and that’s what we did today.”

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