Another slow start has New York Red Bulls' Mike Petke scratching his head: "I have no clue"

Reactive not proactive. The New York Red Bulls said that was once again the case after a 1-1 draw Tuesday night against Sporting Kansas City.

The Red Bulls may have snapped a three-game losing streak and picked up a valuable road point at Sporting Park in New York’s second match in four days, but head coach Mike Petke said his side’s performance left a lot to be desired given their penchant for starting slowly reared its ugly head yet again.

Before Sporting’s Toni Dovale found the back of the net in the ninth minute, the Red Bulls conceded several quality chances. Only desperate defending and the crossbar helped keep New York in the match and opened the door for Bradley Wright-Phillips' equalizer, a clinical finish for his 11th goal of the season. But the disastrous start overshadowed the club’s much-improved showing in the closing 45 minutes.

“I thought it was perhaps our worst start of the season, the first 10-12, maybe even 15 minutes, and we’re a team that’s notorious this year for having bad starts,” Petke said. “We could’ve been down 3-0. We fought through it – didn’t play great in the first half but at least we fought through that and got out – and the response in the second from my team, I’m proud of them, they showed some character.

“But, again, we have to figure out why we start the way we do."

Petke said he was so frustrated with his club’s lifeless first-half performance that he did something he rarely does at halftime: scolded them in the locker room.

Even though he saw his players were equally upset, Petke believed delivering a harsh message was the right thing to do given the Red Bulls’ continued slumber in the first halves of games.

“I think my favorite quote lately has been, ‘If I could figure it out, I’d be a rich man’ because I’d be able to solve it and maybe Barcelona would come calling or something because I could figure those things out,” said Petke. “I have no clue [how to fix it]. Now the players, first thing said after the game from some of the starters is, ‘We have to figure out why we start like this. It seems like we want to be down before we wake up.’”

That troubling habit has left a dark cloud over the Red Bulls, even in the face of a respectable result against the reigning MLS Cup champions. It is also something they know they need to address and resolve once and for all.

“It’s something in the mentality of us, which needs to be fixed,” said midfielder Lloyd Sam. “There’s something not right. We can’t start games like that. It’s the mentality and we’ve got to look into it and see what we can do about it, but that was not good enough.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for He can be reached by email at