Few people know the kind of heartbreak and suffering the New York Red Bulls have endured over the course of their 18-plus years as well as Mike Petke, and that might explain why the club’s head coach is staying relatively mum ahead of what could be the biggest day in their history.
Just five days away from seeing his side host the Chicago Fire in a season finale that could give the Red Bulls their first major trophy, Petke refrained from commenting too much about how big of an opportunity lies before his club and on how much he has thought about winning the Supporters’ Shield. Instead, the rookie head coach emphasized how the approach to the match will be no different than any before it.
No, this is not just another regular-season game. Not by any stretch. Not for this organization. But Petke and the Red Bulls are going to do their best to treat it that way.
“Sunday is 90 minutes, the final 90 minutes of the season,” Petke told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. “Obviously, it’s a special occasion and there’s a lot on the line. However, it would be foolish at this stage to think anything other than this game and three points.
“Honestly, I cannot answer that question the way you want me to,” Petke added. “You ask me after the game and I’ll give you every soundbyte you want and hopefully they’re good soundbytes. But for now, we’re just facing a team in Chicago that there’s a good chance they’ll be in the playoffs already but they’ll be fighting for home-field advantage in the play-in game, or there’s a situation [where] they could possibly be trying to get in the playoffs. Either way, it’s going to be a very difficult game and I could assure you that myself and the players are concentrating on 90 minutes and that’s it.
“I know it’s not the most sexy answer you want, but that’s the answer that I have.”
Some might view Petke’s reluctance to talk about the momentous opportunity as him attempting to avoid counting his chickens before they hatch, but there seems to be more to it than that. Petke also appears to be trying to not add any more pressure to his players ahead of Sunday’s match at Red Bull Arena, and he clearly made that point in one of his responses on Tuesday.
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“I told them before the [3-0 win in Houston this past weekend], ’Guys, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with many people over the last 10 years through my career in many facets of life,’ said Petke. “’From 9-11 survivors to servicemen who were in Afghanistan with bombs flying all around them to police officers who were shot in the line of fire. That’s pressure. Situations like that are pressure. This is not.’
“Playing a game against Houston, we’ve already made the playoffs, they’re fighting for the playoffs, so the pressure is on them. We’re playing Chicago. We are in the playoffs. They are trying to either get in or stay in the playoffs. The pressure is on them. I know that these guys, looking in their eyes, and watching them go out … they respond and they have the character that can deal with situations like this, so there’s no pressure.”