HARRISON, N.J. – That little dust-up in training between Mike Petke and Thierry Henry may have been just what the New York Red Bulls needed.
Ever since that much-discussed heated exchange between head coach and star player, the Red Bulls have gone on a winning streak that grew to three games with Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Toronto FC. But more important than the wins has been the manner in which New York have played, as well as the improved demeanor that they have shown as a collective unit.
“I’ve seen an improvement in the overall attitude of this team, the overall understanding, the willingness to jump on board,” said Petke after the win against Toronto FC when asked specifically about Henry. “Thierry’s goal the last two weeks is a product of everybody behind him and the quality that he has, of course, at the end of it. It’s great to have him scoring two weeks in a row, but I’m equally as pleased as what he’s doing aside from the goals.
“You saw him tonight, Thierry Henry, sprinting back 40 yards, four or five different times into our half to defend. It’s phenomenal.”
It could be mere coincidence that the Red Bulls have gone a winning streak in which they have outscored opponents 8-2 after Petke and Henry’s spat in training on Aug. 29. But it doesn’t appear to be, not if you listen to the words of midfielder Dax McCarty.
“There’s a few things,” said McCarty when asked what triggered the team’s attitude change. “For the most part, there’s a few things that I’m sure [the media is] privy to that you can say maybe that galvanized the team a little bit. But at the end of the day, sometimes a shake-up is something that you like and something that you need.
“For me, it’s not just Mike and Thierry. It’s every team I’ve been on that if there’s been a little disagreement in training, where things have gotten heated, every week that that’s happened the team has played well and come out the next week and won, so now we’re building off these wins and trying to get a little snowball effect. I’ll leave that to [the media] to decide whatever.”
The players’ attitude adjustment is not the only thing that has changed in Red Bulls camp since that quarrel. Petke and New York’s players have talked since then about the messages in training ahead of games being substantially clearer, and that also seems to be a direct result of a moment that many looked at as destructive rather than productive.
“I think you’re seeing from everyone, a renewed commitment to try and be better and to try to be more unselfish and play for the team," McCarty said "Today, you see Bradley [Wright-Phillips] coming back in the midfield to cover for me when I’m out of position, you see Thierry busting his [butt] when he loses the ball to get back in a good shape and win it. These are things that you need as a team to be successful.
“It’s not just the defenders that defend, it’s not just the midfield that has to keep the ball. It’s everyone that has to do their job, but once we adopted the mindset that, ‘Listen, this is 11 players all with the same goal to try to win,’ [things changed]. We know we have the talent, that’s never been an issue with the New York Red Bulls, it’s more a matter of mentality. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing Toronto, it doesn’t matter if we’re playing LA Galaxy, every game means something, so we’re on the same page and it’s nice to have three wins in a row.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.