In a recent ESPNFC highlight piece of Jesse Marsch, Ali Curtis, and the biannual offseason reshuffling that takes place at Red Bull Arena, Doug McIntyre dropped an interesting nugget on the future of Mike Petke. McIntyre's piece talks about how surprisingly positive the changes have been for New York, as the team has hit the ground running in 2015 under the new Marsch/Curtis tandem. But what really caught the eye of New York Red Bulls faithful, was a tidbit placed at the end of the article, as Sporting Director Ali Curtis talks about the club reaching out to Petke over the possibility of returning.
" Curtis said the club recently made contact with Petke, with the hope that he'll return to the Red Bulls in a to-be-determined capacity. 'I've spoken to his agent a number of times throughout the year,' Curtis said. 'That offer is still there.' Embracing the past is just one part of the long game now being played in Harrison, New Jersey.' "
On January 6th, 2015, Mike Petke, the longest tenured player and most successful coach in New York Metrostars/Red Bulls history was unceremoniously fired in a move that astounded and confused many fans. This despite being a folk hero to die-hard and casual fans alike. This despite being the only real pillar of stability in the club's very tumultuous and erratic history. This despite being the only coach to ever win a trophy for this club as he lifted the Supporters Shield in front of the South Ward on the final day of the 2013 season. This despite taking the club to within only one goal of the 2014 MLS Cup Final. This despite delivering on his promise to, "give (the fans) a team (they) could be proud of".
This, combined with an exceptionally tense and awkward town hall, made it very hard for new Sporting Director Ali Curtis to get off on the right foot, yet, Curtis and Jesse Marsch have proved everyone wrong. They've taken a team people thought would be lucky to make the playoffs, and crafted them into one of the very best teams in the league. It's easy to see the great work Marsch has done, but Curtis has still been criticized for his tendency of speaking with too much corporate double-talk and having a ‘holier than thou' attitude at times. That's not fair though, because Ali has also backed up his words with action. This is the man responsible for opening the wallet for Gonzalo Veron, for getting NYRB II off the ground running, and for bringing in quality pickups in Kemar Lawrence and Sacha Kljestan. It's hard to argue against the fact that Curtis has acquitted himself well in his first year on the job.
But by making this offer public Ali opens himself back up for criticism. Mike Petke is a proven commodity in MLS, and should be treated as such. Offering him a job in the organization and bringing him back into the fold would be a great gesture towards the team's past and the team's fans, but there's a fine line that needs to be towed. Making Petke the Frankie Hejduk of Red Bull Arena would be fun for a few weeks, but it would be insulting to what he has accomplished. Here, Ali Curtis needs to show he's sincere and offer Mike Petke a job with weight behind it, a position with meaning. He's earned it, let Petke sink or swim from there on his own, but don't insult him with a figurehead position.The fans will see right through it (as will Petke) and turn on Ali again very, very quickly. If Ali Curtis is to prove he's not a man of hollow words or gestures, he needs to give Mike Petke a job that matters and show that for the whole league to see.