Phew! What a season, eh? Seemed like it had all gone horribly, horribly, wrong and then they put it all together and ran all the way into the wrong end of some colossal refereeing errors. Shame about the finishing in those last two games, also.
But, Papa: WE DIDN'T GET BOUNCED IN THE FIRST ROUND! And we didn't get bounced by DC. Heck, we beat the defending MLS Cup champs home and away in back-to-back games. We were good!
Not MLS Cup good. Of course, Thierry alone gave us a shot at winning any game, and the rest of 'em were on form. Even the defense was better than it had been for most of the season. But "better than atrocious" isn't really the defending standard you'd expect to win you a title. (Though it's been working out for the Revs, eh, Papa? Eh? You there? OK, I'll let that one sink with you for a while. Lost in translation, I'm sure.)
First things first, Papa: thank you. Don't be shy. The captain mentioned you by name in when he said goodbye. It was a helluva ride, he gave us all sorts of memories to enjoy (and a Shield!), and he made a point of mentioning your name at the end of it all.
It doesn't really matter if you come to see a game or not, Papa. You're bankrolling a good time here in America. Keep doing what you do.
Which brings me to the second point: what you do. Word on the street is that you're not quite so enthralled by the idea of throwing a few superstars onto the field and hoping they make the magic happen. Fair enough. Thierry Henry was as super as we might possibly have hoped for, and he made magic happen, and still fell short of winning that end-of-season tournament everyone gets excited about over here.
As I'm sure you know, this club has been reaching for the biggest names it could afford since the day it was invented. And the last couple of years have been the most successful execution of the policy it has ever managed: winning the league followed by not getting disgraced in the Big Cup is nothing to get down about. We wanted more, we always want more, but what we got was rather wonderful.
Titi is on his way, and Tim doesn't seem too happy at the moment. Maybe that changes and he sticks around. Maybe it doesn't. Either way, word is that you're thinking of going a different route: mine the academy (Why not? It's a good academy); bring in the youth; build a team around tactics and playing style; find the players who fit the team; stop trying to fit a team around a couple of players.
It's not a terrible idea. But it does require some patience.
We've got the core of a good team, no question. No point torturing ourselves about replacing Henry: he's not someone you just replace. Figure out what went wrong with the defense, fix it, find appropriate players to plug the gaps left by the inevitable off-season departures, and we're all set to head into the new era in which the team is the star, while our new neighbors work on implementing our old policy with the coach who pretty much invented our new one.
I like the way you think, Papa: counter-intuitive. I'm guessing it's why you're not so popular at MLS meetings (that and the fact I suspect you don't turn up to those either).
And it seems like you've stumbled on the right man for the job in this new era: Mike Petke.
Yes, Papa. He's done some amazing work. Supporters' Shield in his rookie season; Eastern Conference Championship game in his next year. He's not perfect, we know. He hasn't figured out how to compete for more than one cup at a time. He a loyal guy, which occasionally seems to trip him up: not a huge fan of changing tactics or making substitutions. But he's learning, improving, and if these are the difficult early years of his career - watch out, Klinsi.
Great news that he's getting a third year!
Except...why was this even in doubt? Papa, you appointed a rookie head coach in 2013. What did you think was going to happen? Most likely: things would have turned out bad. They very nearly did: Juninho walked out, the team was still hot and cold heading into the last week of August. But Petke turned it around. And we got our Shield.
Similar story this year, except the lows were lower and the highs not quite so high. Sophomore slump? Maybe. Conference final isn't a bad place to end up if you're in a slump. We'll take it.
Look around the league, Papa. Ben Olsen might win MLS Coach of the Year. He took DC to the Eastern Conference title this season, but that's the just second time he's been in the playoffs in four and a half seasons in charge. Last year, he had his team dead last in the league. Now he's considered some sort of genius for having managed to not be epically awful in 2014.
Olsen was an inexperienced coach when he started. And he's delivered the sort of inconsistent year-to-year performances you'd expect of a guy learning his trade.
Jay Heaps is a similar case: not much to recommend him to be head coach of New England Revolution other than a long playing history with the club and the fact he happened to be available at a time when the Revs needed someone on the sideline. He's had three seasons: missed the playoffs the first year; got to the same round RBNY fell at in 2013; and now he's on his way to MLS Cup.
Give 'em time, and inexperienced coaches gather experience. That and the extremely forgiving nature of MLS puts a club in position to prosper if it gives the coaching staff time to build a team and fashion a coherent plan for success.
Mike Petke walked into the middle of a reasonably coherent plan (Thierry Henry! Tim Cahill! Nine other guys!), and won the league at the first attempt.
He should have been MLS Coach of the Year for that achievement in 2103. But it seems the more exceptional a Red Bull's achievement, the less likely any formal recognition from the league. (Say hi to Bradley, Papa, if you see him this winter.)
No matter. All that matters is we're secure under the leadership of a coach who cares about this team, learns from his mistakes, and is ready to roll up his sleeves and try to keep winning games without the considerable advantage of having Thierry Henry on his roster.
Last point: you know you need to stick by Petke, right? The article suggesting you've signed him up for a third year is encouraging, but also concerning. Why would you appoint an completely inexperienced coach to a one-year contract back in 2013? Did you expect him to be terrible? And once he won the Shield, why on earth wasn't he signed up for multiple years?
Maybe he was. In fairness, the article simply suggests Petke might have been fired earlier this season when it was looking a lot like RBNY would miss the playoffs.
And that would have been very dumb. Imagine we hit the end of this year, Henry is heading off into the sunset, we've missed the playoffs, the coach who was supposed to preside over our "continuity era" is also gone, and you're trying to sell the fan base on the idea that it's time to dig into the youth ranks and build a team the old-fashioned way.
Not buying it. You don't have the patience for that project if you can't tolerate a bad year from the novice coach who just won you the first major trophy the club has ever had.
So if we're in for the long-haul, you need to make the right gesture, Papa. Show us there is a plan by backing the head coach to make it happen. A long-term contract doesn't mean he can't be fired. But it does imply you're willing to see this project through, and understand it may take more than a year to make it yield results.
If the rebuild is on, we're likely in for some tough times ahead. We're a pretty happy fan base right now. But we'll turn on you as soon as the results turn bad. Happens at every club, every time. So show some faith in Petke, and if you're asking him to build a team without the boost of a few superstars, give him the stability of a long-term contract.
I can't say whether Petke needs it: he seems like the sort of guy who would almost prefer to stay year-to-year. Not one to rest on his laurels.
But we need it. It'll be a long off-season, and this team could be shredded by the Expansion Draft, the CBA negotiations and usual cap shenanigans. Don't leave us - the fans - worrying about our coach's future too: he might be the only link we have to the good old days by the time next summer rolls around.