HARRISON, N.J. — Mike Petke is savvy enough to know the storylines of a match and the biggest one heading into Real Salt Lake’s match against the New York Red Bulls Saturday night was his return to Red Bull Arena.
Petke, a club legend as a player and coach, had yet to coach against his former team since he was controversially dismissed as Red Bulls coach in Jan. 2015.
For Petke, considering how long it’s been since he was in charge of the club and led them to their first major hardware — the 2013 Supporters’ Shield title — made it not that big of a deal for him.
It was just another business trip from Salt Lake — almost.
There were the 100 or so friends and family who made the trip from Bohemia, N.Y., along with his wife and kids who flew in from Utah for the game. And the South Ward, who didn’t unfurl a tifo in Petke’s honor, but they did chant his name after the final whistle of the Red Bulls’ 4-0 win.
Petke recognized both groups after the game before leaving the field.
“I always go to the South Ward, going on 20 years now,” Petke said. “That’s what I meant when I said this is just another game because it’s been five years. Got to move on at some point. I’ve moved on certainly, but with them I’ll never move on. They will always be special.”
Petke was the bridge, in some ways, from the old Red Bulls mentality of bringing in big-name older stars like Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, to the high-pressing frenetic system, which includes the youth movement and building within the academy.
Petke, who said he was part of those conversations for six months before he was fired, enjoys watching the Red Bulls.
“It‘s interesting to watch and it’s cool to watch to be honest with you,” Petke said.
It’s also the way Petke likes to run things at RSL.
“We’re a very different organization in RSL, but we are very academy-driven, very youth and homegrown,” Petke said. “I think that if you get the right people in like they have here, then you have success, if the system is the most important thing, which it is here.”
The man who replaced Petke as head coach was also in the building Saturday night. Jesse Marsch, who helped lead the Red Bulls to two more Supporters’ Shield titles before leaving for RB Leipzig midway through last season, watched the game with his wife in the stands.
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) June 1, 2019
It was an interesting dynamic, especially for current Red Bulls coach Chris Armas, who grew up playing youth soccer on Long Island with Petke and who was Marsch’s assistant before taking over.
Armas said it was “almost emotional” for him when he saw Marsch before the game.
“For me, it was extra special because Jesse was here,” Armas said. “Just having him here, getting to see up close the work that we’re doing; that he can feel so part of that and proud of that, I think he has to feel good about that.”
Sharing the scoring
When Michael Amir Murillo scored in the 64th minute to put the Red Bulls in front, 3-0, he became the 16th different New York player to score a goal in 2019, two more than all of last season. Five of the Red Bulls’ last 13 goals have been scored by a defender.
All of this is happening as Bradley Wright-Phillips missed his eighth straight game with a groin injury.
“It was nice we got the shutout, it’s nice that we got four goals, but then you also see who contributes offensively it’s a pretty big chasm when Brad isn’t there and yet the only way we’re able to do is by committee