There have been a few changes to ESC's plans over the course of the day, as reported here and here, but the New York Red Bulls supporters' group has released an official statement on its plans for Sunday's home opener. Presented here in full and without comment.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Empire Supporters Club to Protest the Firing of Mike Petke
Harrison, NJ—On Sunday, March 22nd, the Empire Supporters Club will lead a fan-based protest aimed at showing opposition to the firing of head coach Mike Petke. The protest will take place at Red Bull Arena during the nationally televised home opener against D.C. United.
To express our discontent with Petke’s unfair dismissal, the Empire Supporters Club will abstain from its usual show of support for the first 12 minutes of the match and instead display banners with messages supportive of Petke. These banners will be supplemented by pro-Petke chants that will help signal to the entire stadium and the television viewers at home our disaffection with those responsible for his release. The first 12 minutes of the match have been chosen for this protest to symbolically connect Petke to our display. Petke wore number 12 as a player.
Petke was officially fired by newly appointed sporting director Ali Curtis on January 7th after serving as head coach for two seasons. During his tenure as head coach, Petke led the Red Bulls to their first major trophy in franchise history in the form of the 2013 Supporters Shield, which is awarded to the team with the best regular season record. Petke followed up the success of that year with a 2014 campaign that was highlighted by a deep run into the playoffs that ended a goal short of earning the team passage to the MLS Cup Final. Prior to taking the reigns as head coach, Petke spent two stints as a player for the franchise (1998-2002 and 2009-2010), where his hard-nosed style of play and steadfast dedication to winning quickly elevated him to the level of fan favorite.
Red Bull executives were never able to fully articulate a clear justification for Petke’s firing, Empire Supporters Club Executive Board member Alan Kennedy stated. "What made Mike so unique as a player and coach was that he exhibited the same level of passion for the team as the supporters," Kennedy noted. " In essence, this protest is about standing up for one of our own. Mike deserved a far better fate after leading this franchise to some of the proudest moments in its 20-year history."
Eric Rios, who also serves on the Empire Supporters Club Executive Board, added that Petke’s firing highlights the team’s inability to establish continuity and a consistent identity. "The decision to part ways with Mr. Petke goes against everything that this organization has preached for the last three or four years," Rios stated. "It basically hits the reset button once again and we find ourselves with yet another new coaching staff."
Jesse Marsch, who was hired in January to succeed Petke, is the 14th head coach since the team began play in 1996.
About the Empire Supporters Club
The Empire Supporters Club ("ESC") is the oldest supporters club in Major League Soccer, founded before the league itself in early 1995 in anticipation of a new professional franchise in New York/New Jersey. Reflecting the community they come from, the ESC is one of the most diverse supporters clubs in America, boasting members from every corner of the globe and of varied backgrounds. This unique make-up has influenced their style in the stands: Part South American Barra, part European Ultra and part British Supporter, with some local flavor thrown in.