NEW YORK – A longtime member of an organization that has drawn plenty of ire and scrutiny from its supporters, Mike Petke is well aware of his standing as a fan favorite.
He also knows that that will no longer be enough to satisfy a rabid New York Red Bulls fanbase that is thirsty for some silverware.
Days away from his head-coaching debut, Petke realizes his relationship with Red Bulls faithful is about to change, perhaps permanently. Whereas before fans saw Petke as the loyal local who bled for the club as both a player and an assistant coach, now he will be viewed as the man responsible for ending their 17-year trophy-less drought.
While the 37-year-old Petke is living a dream by taking charge of the team he has been so passionate about for most of his career, he is fully aware that it comes with the price of facing pressure on a consistent basis. But that is not enough to discourage him, no matter how many bumps in the road he may face.
"I’m not stupid," said Petke at the Red Bulls’ Media Day on Monday night. “I’m a first-year head coach with zero head-coaching experience on arguably the most high-profile team in the league. Of course, there’s pressure but it’s the same pressure I put on myself. It really is and I understand that, I accept that, I accept that this is a results-driven field that I’m in.“
Petke will likely have more of a grace period with Red Bulls’ fans than any head coach before him, but the club will only be able to lose so many games before the pitchforks and torches come out.
He knows that and it is likely why he has stopped ‘patrolling the websites’ and forbidden his family members from doing the same. That may be an unwelcome change by fans but it should be an understandable one, especially since Petke plans on holding no ill will when the time comes for him to be jeered.
“The one thing I’ve always loved about New York fans, whether it be the Red Bulls or any sporting team in New York, is that they’re demanding,” said Petke. “I have no qualms or worries about the day when it comes, which there will come the day, when I’m being booed or cursed at. That’s the business that I’m in and I’m OK with that.
“For me personally, at the end of the day if I know I’m doing the right thing and it’s just not working out, I know that I can hold my head high. … I’m going to do everything the way I want to do it and I know the fans are on my side, they have my back, but they’re going to demand the best from me. I expect that and I’m looking forward to that from them.”
Petke is also eagerly looking towards making his debut on Sunday against the Portland Timbers in what will surely be a raucous JELD-WEN Field (7:30 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), and he fully expects to have some pre-game jitters. After all, he had them all preseason.
“You get excited when you talk and you ramble and you try to deliver a pregame [speech],” said Petke. “Whether there’s 30,000 in Portland or it’s a practice game, I get excited and I get butterflies.
“I think butterflies are a very powerful thing if you use them in the right way and so far in my career I have used them in the right way,” added Petke before knocking on the podium in front of him and continuing. “Hopefully I will in the future as well.”