SANDY, Utah – A little more than two years removed from a narrow defeat in the MLS Eastern Conference Championship as the head coach of the New York Red Bulls, Mike Petke is preparing a team for the start of a new professional soccer season again, this time as the head coach of Real Monarchs SLC, Real Salt Lake's USL side.
Sitting out for two years helped Petke find what he believes was the right fit for him following a spell at the helm of his hometown Red Bulls, a club he also played for when they were known as the MetroStars. As Red Bulls manager, Petke led the organization to their first trophy, the 2013 Supporters’ Shield, and then to an Eastern Conference Championship in 2014, cementing his legendary status at the club. But to the dismay of many RBNY fans, he was fired by sporting director Ali Curtis in January 2015.
“Life is very short, the career of a coach and a player is very short, you have to make the most of it in the short time you have,” Petke told MLSsoccer.com. “It was good to sit back after the dust settled and to clear my head. I didn’t just jump on anything.”
The handful of coaching openings he was presented with didn’t work out. A couple of MLS interviews and opportunities in the USL and NASL just weren’t the right fit.
“I’m 41 years old. There’s only two coaching jobs in New York,” Petke said. “They’re taken and one’s out of the equation probably forever. My wife said it everyday, you need to get back into coaching. You’re a coach.”
A call out of the blue from Real Salt Lake general manager Craig Waibel intrigued Petke, because of his time playing and coaching against RSL. A few meetings later, including with RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen, Petke was sold on leading the Monarchs.
“It starts with, [RSL] is a family and loyal environment,” said Petke, who was formally announced by the club on Dec. 22. “I’ve seen that from afar with the few amount of coaches they have had in their history, talking to people that I know and respect that play here and are in the office here.
“I found out the hard way that certain other people don’t feel the same way about loyalty.”
Aside from the organizational fit, Petke is excited for the alignment and collaboration he’ll be a part of, especially once the RSL Academy, Monarchs and RSL will be under the same roof in August.
All of it put together made moving to Salt Lake an easy decision, despite leaving the area he and his family had called home for many years.
“This made the most sense. And once it made sense, my wife was on board – it didn’t matter if it was China or Salt Lake,” Petke said.
RSL felt the same way. Vice President of Soccer Administration Rob Zarkos feels Petke is just the guy to take on this role in the organization.
“Mike has kind of gotten a Sisyphean task in that he has to develop players and win,” Zarkos said. “We have so many young kids and they have to come into a winning environment. Mike’s the guy to do that. You know what he did in New York. You’re with the guy for two minutes and players want to run through walls for him. He’s the perfect fit for us and the Monarchs.”
Taking a USL job, especially one affiliated with an MLS team, probably wasn’t what a lot of people would’ve predicted as Petke’s next step. But coaching the Monarchs is an opportunity he wants to see through.
“I signed on to be the Monarchs coach and that’s what I want to do right now. I want to be a success and get back in the swing of coaching,” Petke said. “I didn’t uproot my family three-fourths of the way across the country to next month move somewhere else. This is the right place for me right now and the future holds what the future holds.”
The Monarchs’ season starts on April 1 with their home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium, vs. Phoenix Rising FC.