Red Bulls Subtract “Interim” Tag from Mike Petke, Name Him Head Coach for 2013

Petke!

You won’t find bigger fans of Mike Petke than the ones currently roaming the gleaming corridors of the Backpost World Headquarters. We love the guy. New York’s alltime leader in games played, he’s charismatic, hard-working, and was a damn good MLS center back.

He bookended his career with stints in New York, starting with the MetroStars in 1998 before moving on to DC United (where he won the 2004 MLS title) and Colorado (which he helped lead to the 2005 Western Conference final) and then returning to the rebranded Red Bulls in 2008.

He was a three-time MLS All-Star, he earned two caps for the U.S. national team, and he has a fantastic Long Island accent. Petke is aces back-to-back.

So why are we a little lukewarm on his hiring?

For starters, he was clearly the team’s third choice, at best. The Red Bulls courted former Portugese international Paulo Sousa, Scottish veteran Gary McAllister, and possibly several others if reports are to be believed (Eric Wynalda? Tony Meola? Paul Lambert?), while Petke was a placeholder “interim” coach following Hans Backe’s dismissal in early November.

There’s definitely an element of, “Oh, crap, all our choices have fallen through, and the season is  just about to start—Mike, the job is yours.” (Or, to put it another way, the Red Bulls are the squirrel in this clip, and the impending season is the leopard.)

Then there’s the question of Petke’s experience, and his temperament. He has two seasons under his belt as an assistant to Backe, and he also comes across as kind of a good-time guy. He’s not a loose cannon (like Wynalda), but he doesn’t radiate gravitas, exactly.

That may not be a problem: several recent MLS alums have entered the league’s managerial ranks without a ton of coaching experience (or an especially imposing presence) and done quite well, including Jason Kreis (RSL) and Ben Olsen (DC United), or not half-bad, in the cases of Jay Heaps (New England) and Jesse Marsch (Montreal).

(Yes, Marsch was fired, and Heaps’ team finished 9-17-8, but both had their sides playing entertaining soccer, and Marsch’s dismissal was arguably unfair, while Heaps’ team was sunk by a midseason slump.)

A third issue, and possibly the most significant one, is how Petke will handle the locker-room–sized ego of the Red Bulls’ most important player, Thierry Henry. Here’s Petke on that subject at Thursday’s press conference:

“I’ve had two years now to get to know Thierry, and I didn’t think anyone was as competitive as I was, but he made me look like my 5-year-old son. Whether it’s Ping-Pong or the World Cup final, he’s playing to win. I put him in the same category as guys like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in that respect. I have a preexisting relationship with him. There’s nothing to be coddled with these players. I’m going to treat them like men.”

It will be interesting to watch.

On the positive side, Petke knows MLS and the club far better than any European candidate would have, and he’s certainly well-liked by the current roster. Here’s RBNY technical director Andy Roxburgh on those issues:

“He’s charismatic, he’s well organized and he gets the respect of the players. What’s very important in all of this is that Mike is very experienced in terms of the MLS. If you brought a coach in from Europe, he might be experienced in Europe, but he would be totally inexperienced here in the U.S. Mike starts with an enormous advantage because he knows everybody, he knows the league and he’s absolutely passionate about the club. 

Forget the irony that Roxburgh just spent close to 11 weeks trying to bring in a coach from Europe, and he has a point. Petke will be able to hit the ground running in a lot of areas where a foreign coach would’ve been playing catch-up. So there’s that.

Stay tuned to see who comes in as his assistants, and in the meantime, here’s a clip of Petke scoring the second goal ever struck at Red Bull Arena, in an exhibition against Santos (with Neymar on the field) in March 2010:

He’s Fresh from Leading Aston Villa to One of the Worst Defeats In their 139-Year History, So Naturally Paul Lambert Is A Rumored Target in the Red Bulls’ Coaching Search

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The New York Red Bulls opened training camp on Monday, and they selected six players in Major League Soccer’s Supplemental Draft on Tuesday, but they still do not have a coach for the 2013 season.

A number of candidates and rumored candidates have come and gone, including former Portugese international Paulo Sousa (who, according to the European press, turned down the job when the club wouldn’t meet his conditions) and ex-Red Bull and U.S. international Claudio Reyna (who was slated to be the top assistant to Sousa, but also reportedly took a pass on the offer), and now, two-and-a-half months after the team dismissed Hans Backe, comes a report from Big Apple Soccer that they are considering an offer to Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert.

Never mind that Lambert’s team lost 8-0 to Chelsea last month, or that they suffered a historically ignominious loss, on aggregate, to fourth-tier Bradford City yesterday to bounce out of the League Cup (or that Lambert has zero familiarity with MLS or U.S. soccer), the 43-year-old Scot is, if the report is to be believed, being considered a viable candidate by New York.

Sigh.

The report also claims that former U.S. international and loose cannon Eric Wynalda is a candidate as well, so, considering the fact that Wynalda was reportedly eliminated from consideration weeks ago, and the fact that this same publication reported in early January that Gary McAllister had been hired by New York (which turned out to be false), the reliability of this information is certainly in question.

Time, of course, will tell, but in the meantime, Red Bulls fans are left wondering, yet again, what in the world is going on with their franchise.

Chivas USA and The Montreal Impact: North America’s Anti-North American Clubs

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The Montreal Impact introduced their new coach, Marco Schallibaum (right), on Monday, and the club’s owner, Joey Saputo, had some interesting things to say following the announcement. Schallibaum replaces retired MLS player Jesse Marsch, who led Montreal to a not-bad 12-16-6 record in their first year of MLS existence (and his first as a head coach), keeping them in the playoff chase till the final third of the season.

Here’s the owner’s take on the change:

“Getting into MLS, we were told that the MLS [sic] was different. You need the American experience or people in your organization who understood the MLS [sic]. We moved away from what we really believed. Last year, when we looked for coaches, we didn’t look abroad. We looked at American coaches. We basically gave that coach carte blanche with the people on his coaching staff. We went away from our core values.”

Of course there’s a reason Saputo and his team received that advice. The track record of North American coaches, or coaches who’ve spent a lot of time on these shores, is pretty glittering, while the track record of foreign-reared coaches, with only a few exceptions, is the direct opposite of glittering.

There have been 17 MLS Cup trophies handed out in the league’s history. All but one have gone to coaches with substantial experience in US and/or Canadian soccer circles. The lone exception, Englishman Gary Smith, who won the 2010 championship with Colorado, is no longer in the league, having clashed with Rapids management and returned to England just one year after winning the MLS title.

That’s not to say that a foreign coach can’t or won’t soon find sustained success in MLS, it’s just to point out that the grain of history has so far run against that happening.

Yet Saputo and Montreal are undeterred. Here’s more from Saputo at the Schallibaum presser:

“We are a very European-type city. We like the European flavor. We’re different from Toronto. We’re different from the other North American cities. The culture is different. Our fans didn’t want to see the American players. They wanted to see the European players.”

And so, in 2013, Montreal fans will see more Europeans. Or at least one more: The Impact have signed Italian journeyman midfielder Andrea Pisanu, bringing him into the fold alongside the Serie A veterans they already have—center backs Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari, and striker Marco Di Vaio.

What Saputo’s comments mean for the nine Americans still on the Impact’s active roster of 22 remains to be seen.

Across the continent in Los Angeles, Chivas USA is undergoing a similar re-think (or, in their case, re- re-think; they started life in MLS saying they would only sign players of Mexican descent). The club has hired the fiery, enigmatic Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, formerly of Puebla, as its new head coach.

Here’s what Sola—more readily known by his nickname, Chelis—had to say about MLS before he was hired, in response to rumors that he might in fact be hired. He was speaking to the Mexican site MedioTiempo.com:

“I believe that in MLS almost all the teams play the same. The champion plays the same like all the teams. It’s not that you want to improvise, but I don’t have the sensibility to do what they do over there. It could be good as far as points and achievements, but I don’t think I have the profile to play that kind of soccer.”

That sounds for all the world like a man turning down a job prospect, yet, just days later, Chelis was announced as the Goats’ manager, their eighth in nine seasons as a franchise.

Like Saputo, he said the club’s problem lay in the nationality of its personnel:

“It doesn’t have a style and it has lost its Mexican base. In the last tournament they played without Mexicans and I imagine that giving the team a Mexican base, we can get to that style of soccer that I like to play. From there, people will come on board, we’ll achieve more, and from there you begin to please and give something different from the soccer in [MLS]. It’s possible to achieve it and reach many objectives.”

It probably is, Chelis, and we wish you the best of luck in reaching them. The league—and the game in this country—would only benefit from having two competitive teams in Los Angeles.

But both you and Saputo should keep in mind that not only have almost all of the MLS Cup–winning coaches been steeped in North American soccer culture, but most of the championship-winning players, too, have been American.

The rosters of every single one of the 17 MLS championship teams have been predominantly American.

As a famous American coach used to say, you could look it up.

But good luck with the new directions you’re pursuing. And you can take some solace in the fact that you’re not alone. The New York Red Bulls—a team without a trophy of any kind in 17 years of existence—are on the verge of hiring their second straight foreign-born-and-bred coach, as they’re reportedly close to a deal with Paulo Sousa of Portugal.

Red Bulls Coach Hans Backe Says He Won’t Be Back Next Year

Two weeks after the Red Bulls dismissed GM Erik Soler during the thick of the team’s push for the playoffs, head coach Hans Backe has told a Swedish sports outlet that he will not return to the club next season.

“My contract runs out and I have not heard anything, so I will be moving home (Sweden) in December,” Backe said to SportExpressen yesterday.

So there you have it—sweep up the floor and turn out the lights, the season’s over.

What’s that? Oh, there are two games left? A playoff spot still remains to be clinched (or not)?

What is wrong with this organization’s sense of timing?

Before Soler was let go, they were battling for first place and had lost just once in their previous eight matches. Since his dismissal, they’ve lost a pivotal matchup at home against Chicago, slipped to fourth place, and heard their coach say he’s finished at the club.

Backe’s comments look like the last link in a chain of events that RBNY set in motion (intentionally or not, and, really, either way is pretty much equally damning) when the club shuffled Soler out the door. Soon after that, Soler’s replacement, Jerome de Bontin, gave a ringing non-endorsement of Backe, telling the press, “We’re unequivocally behind Hans until the end of the season.”

That line should have come with a pause after ‘Hans’ and a rimshot (ba-dum-dum) after ‘season.’ Seriously, what an insult; it’s no surprise that Backe is returning the favor in public, through the media.

Of course, the ones bearing the brunt of this mismanagement are the players and more importantly, the fans, who’ve suffered through 16 previous years of this kind of nonsense only to have it rear its head right at the moment it looked like the club had turned a corner.

Was there any reason all of this couldn’t have waited till, you know, after the season?

NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks Hire Eric Wynalda as Interim Coach

He has long pined for a head-coaching job in Major League Soccer, and now former U.S. national team leading scorer Eric Wynalda has the next best thing. The Atlanta Silverbacks of the second-division NASL have named Wynalda interim coach and team advisor.

The decision comes just weeks after Wynalda coached amateur side Cal FC to a surprising berth in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, leading the team to wins over the third-division professional side Wilmington Hammerheads and the top-flight Portland Timbers along the way.

“I’m absolutely thrilled for this opportunity with the Silverbacks. It was truly one that I didn’t want to pass up,” said Wynalda, 43, and still second on the USMNT’s alltime goals list with 34. “This is a case of an under-performing team, and I’m honored that the club chose me to take on the challenge of turning things around and helping the Silverbacks fulfill their potential on the field.”

“Eric is very well respected and he’s someone who has tremendous knowledge of the game through his career as a player, coach, and TV broadcaster,” said Silverbacks General Manager Andy Smith. “Through our conversations with him, it’s clear how much he studies the game, and we’re convinced he has the leadership qualities to turn this team around.”

There is one unusual hitch in the deal: even though Wynalda will take the reins of the last-place Silverbacks (1-5-8) immediately, he will not relinquish his role as a broadcaster for FOX Soccer.

Keep an eye on how that plays out as the English Premier League resumes in August and the Silverbacks hit the stretch run of the NASL season.

Mick McCarthy’s Greatest Hits

Following a 5-1 loss to West Brom on Sunday, relegation-threatened Wolverhampton Wanderers dismissed coach Mick McCarthy, ending his term at the club after five-and-a-half years.

McCarthy took the Wolves job in the summer of 2006, when they were in the Championship, and, according to ESPN, promised promotion to the Premier League within three years. He delivered in April 2009, when Wolves defeated Queens Park Rangers 1-0 to clinch a berth in the top flight. They finished 15th in their first season in the Premiership, and last year, they staved off relegation on the last day of the season, when Stephen Hunt scored against Blackburn with three minutes to play.

But apart from the thrilling relegation and promotion fights, McCarthy was at his best when delivering post- and pre-match soundbites. Here’s a sampling of his best work in that department:

• [When asked for his reaction to Wolves’ position following their 2-0 win over Fulham early this season] “My reaction: bothered. I’ll tell you what I don’t like: we start bottom every year, don’t we? By alphabetical order. It’s nice to be top after two games.”

• “Matt Jarvis for England’? Yes, I heard those chants. It’s when they sing ‘Mick McCarthy is a big-nose wanker’ that I don’t hear the crowd.

• [On players using Twitter] “They have to be careful what they say on it about the club and its policies. If they put a team selection up—which I’m sure some disgruntled numpty will at some stage—they will be in trouble”

• [After a tough 1-0 win over Spurs in 2009] “Marcus Hahnemann’s not been diving around making saves everywhere. [It was] really good stuff at times from Spurs but Marcus made one really good save and no, we haven’t been mullered. They’ve got to work like that every game. If we have passengers we’re knackered.” [We consulted experts in linguistics to break that one down, here.]

• “No regrets. None at all. My only regret is that we went out on penalties. That’s my only regret. But no, no regrets.”

And for the big finish…

[Here’s McCarthy after being asked what he thought of the own goal Wolves conceded in the first minute of a game against Reading in 2009] “Fucking abysmal, that was what I fucking thought of it. C’mon, let’s get to it, I’m trying my best here. What did I make of it? I thought it was the best bit of fucking football I’ve seen in a long time. Do me a favour. It was a crap start to a game. There you have it, can you print all that? Fucking rubbish, absolute tosh. Drivel. Shite. Bullshit. That’s what I thought of it. Did that help? I’m quite pleased, apart from the fact that’s given them the poxy result, I’m fucking livid about it – of course I am. So, there you have it.”

We’re gonna miss that guy.

MLS Roundup: Beckham Leaning Toward Staying; Pareja to Colorado?

Now that the Paris St. Germain deal is officially off, the path is clear for David Beckham to rejoin the MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy, right?

You would think so, but a new MLS deal has yet to be announced. While saying he has every intention of getting it done, AEG President Tim Lieweke sounded some cautionary notes in an interview with the LA Times yesterday:

“The stories were all over the front page of every newspaper in Europe that he was going to Paris; I told everyone I would not pay a lot of attention to that. And now that the stories are that he is going to the Galaxy, I would repeat the same advice: Premature.”

Lieweke added that the situation is “heading in the direction” of a new deal for the 36-year-old Englishman, but emphasized that the contract is not done. Yahoo Sports reported that LA had offered a one-year $6.5 million deal that allows Beckham time off for the 2012 London Olympics. But Lieweke told the Times there was more to the deal than those elements:

“We have the added complication that David has the right to purchase a franchise in this league. There are a lot of issues we are going through. We are committed to David and he has always felt strongly about the Galaxy in LA, and it does not surprise me that his family would prefer to stay in LA. But we’re not done yet.”

It’s interesting to us to hear people talk about Beckham “leveraging” his LA situation with the PSG offer (and, reportedly, others).

Is he really concerned about squeezing another million out of AEG? With a net worth of around $220 million (up to $271 million, if you count his wife’s income), and the league (and club) accommodating his request for time off for the Olympics, and enabling him to purchase a franchise down the road, does he really care about the salary figure? He already turned down almost twice his 2011 salary from PSG.

We’re not experts on these issues, but we’d guess it’s more a question of dotting legal ‘i’s’ and crossing contractual ‘t’s’ than negotiating dollar amounts. Or we’d hope so, anyway.

•••

The Denver Post is reporting that the Colorado Rapids’ have finally settled on a replacement for ex-coach Gary Smith, who departed on acrimonious terms in November, just one year after winning the 2010 MLS Cup. Their new man: FC Dallas assistant and Academy Director Oscar Pareja.

Pareja, a former Colombian international who played eight seasons in MLS with New England and Dallas, beat out a short list of candidates including Denis Hamlett, Tom Soehn, and Richie Williams.

Neither FC Dallas nor Colorado would comment on the report, but Rapids President Tim Hinchey said the club would have an announcement this week.

There has also been widespread speculation that outgoing U.S. U-17 coach Wilmer Cabrera, also a former Colombian international, would join Pareja as an assistant coach in Colorado.