SANDY, Utah – New Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke only needed one preseason and a single, victorious USL match to prove he had what it took to replace Jeff Cassar, who was let go after three matches to start the 2017 season.
Petke was most recently the head coach of RSL’s USL affiliate, Real Monarchs, and he was at the helm for their season-opening victory last weekend. It was his time with Real Monarchs that gave Petke a leg up on the competition for RSL’s head coaching vacancy, which he was appointed to fill on Wednesday.
“There are always pros and cons after every interview,” RSL general manager Craig Waibel said of the search. “One of the pros with Mike was that he’s here. He’s familiar with the organization. He’s familiar with the players. It’s impossible to ignore it.”
Petke's brief spell with the Monarchs also helped RSL feel good about his one con: He had coached just one game over the last two years since his surprising firing by the New York Red Bulls after two playoff seasons and a Supporters' Shield.
“He’d been away for two years, but this is like riding a bicycle,” RSL’s VP of soccer administration Rob Zarkos said. “The guy succeeded at a high level and we believe he will succeed at a high level again.
“It was apparent who we needed to hire. With his vision, his planning, what we wanted to do, he took our roster and said ‘I like this. I like this. What do you think of this?’ We were on the same page with what we thought behind the scenes and the interests aligned. We knew we could work well with him, and while it was one game, everything he has done from preseason to now has shown his character, what he can do, and what his expectations are for the team.”
The two months Petke spent with the Monarchs got him back on that bicycle and with a good performance last weekend in Portland against Timbers 2 added some more confidence to the new RSL head coach.
“They had a big hand in me falling back in love with coaching and bringing back the passion, but I needed it kicked out of me a little bit,” Petke said.
“In almost 20 years in this league, I have met one owner and that’s Dell Loy Hansen,” Petke said. “The vision he laid out was music to my ears. It really showed me what was lying ahead for the RSL organization and to me it was an easy thing to jump into and be a part of.”
In contrast to the high-priced designated players and the roster he had in New York, Petke is now tasked with developing young players while winning and also contributing throughout the organization from the academy to the first team.
“We’re a different organization,” Waibel said. “We have quite a few young guys in it. We believe in our young guys and that’s something that we need the coach to believe in as well.”
That belief was another reason RSL felt Petke was the right fit for the job.
“Mike has that vision. He loves training youth. He loves developing youth. We needed that. We’re going to be a club for the long term that develops talent,” Zarkos said. “We need Mike to play a young guy and give him a chance. We’re deep with youth talent and with young guys you have to be strategic about when you play [them]. I think Mike has that in spades.”
Petke will take over the reins of RSL after their game this Saturday against Minnesota (8 pm ET on MLS LIVE). He’ll make his debut a week later in RSL’s April 8 home game against Vancouver (9:30 pm ET on MLS LIVE in USA and TSN4 in Canada).