FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Mike Petke choked up, fighting back tears as he answered the first question during his postgame meeting with the media.
Just moments earlier, he witnessed his New York Red Bulls’ season come to an end, tying the New England Revolution 2-2 but losing the Eastern Conference Championship on aggregate, 4-3.
New York had twice gone up in the second leg of the series to move agonizingly close to playing in their first MLS Cup since 2008. But each time Charlie Davies responded with a goal to put New England back in front.
As disappointing as the defeat at Gillette Stadium was, Petke’s emotions were not running high out of sadness alone.
Yes, the second-year head coach was feeling plenty of sorrow after seeing the club he holds so dear to his heart fail to accomplish its goal. But he was equally as proud and passionate about how the Red Bulls performed, as they fought valiantly, pushing the Revolution to the brink before falling just short.
“I am so freakin’ proud,” said Petke, pausing for 10 seconds and staring into space before continuing to share his thoughts when another reporter tried to ask him another question. “I’m so proud of my guys for these two games – especially today, [with] how they came with this energy and this attitude and listened to the game plan and deserved to win.
“Not taking anything away from New England. New England did a great job. They got it done … We lost today and I wish New England the best. They gave us a hell of a series. We did enough to win, but at the end of the day we didn’t.”
The Red Bulls certainly fought hard enough and created enough chances to come out on top, but much like their 2-1 home loss in the opening leg, they did not capitalize on all of their opportunities.
Jamison Olave headed a ball over the crossbar on a first-half chance that could’ve given the club a 2-0 lead on the day, and Tim Cahill was unable to direct a close-range volley in front of goal on target in the second half when the score was 2-1 in New York’s favor.
Both golden chances were soon followed by goals from Davies, and not even Petke’s late tactical switch to a 3-5-2 could prevent New York's from their MLS Cup-less run from extending to 19 years.
It was yet another tale of close, but no cigar.
“Today was made for us to go to the final,” said Cahill, who scored the opener in the 26th minute. “I think everyone felt that. You could see it in their players’ eyes that they were stuttering a bit when we started to press on, and I’m just proud of the boys, really, because it’s unfortunate that I haven’t been here all season and I really wanted to contribute in a big way for the team.
“We didn’t do the job, but overall they’ve got to be proud because we’ve actually did really well this season.”
The defeat will certainly put a damper on what was accomplished in 2014. But at least momentarily, the Red Bulls can still look back on the year as a whole as a positive. They ended several of their longstanding hexes and were right there on Saturday, a goal away from reaching the MLS Cup Final.
Though the ending was not the one they had dreamed of, Petke and his men professed pride in the midst of all the immediate frustration and heartache.
“I think that we’ve made tremendous strides over the last two years,” said Petke. “I’m proud of them, and whatever happens next year as far as what our game plan is and what we decide to do, this is going to be a great memory for me as a coach.”