COMMENTARY | It looks like one victory over his club's hated rivals will only buy New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke so much.
Professional sport is the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" business. A head coach/manager can hoist a FA Cup and Champions League trophy in May only to be fired six months later. That's just the nature of the beast.
Petke understands the point made above as much as does any other MLS coach. He has repeatedly taken the blame for his club's slow start to the 2013 campaign, and he vented his frustrations to reporters following Wednesday evening's 1-0 loss to Sporting KC. "At the end of the day, I'm not happy," said the RBNY coach. "We lost to a good team, but at home, I'm not happy at all."
Critics may be quick to point out that the following are excuses and nothing more, but the fact is that Wednesday's contest was never going to be easy for New York. While RBNY were away to DC United this past weekend, Sporting KC, the hottest team in the MLS East (Houston Dynamo have only thus far looked dominant when playing at home), had 11 total off-days to prepare for their trip to Red Bull Arena. Such a rest period is a significant factor, especially when you consider that both teams will again be in action this coming Saturday.
The biggest question regarding Petke's tactics against KC involve a lack of quality out on the wings, something that has been a trend for New York throughout the first two months of the season. Petke was once again faced with a situation where his side needed more pace and more life in the midfield, and once again he went with somebody other than the speedy Lloyd Sam. Ruben Bover, subbed on in the 66th minute instead of Sam, provided little to spark the hosts minus one pinpoint cross that was delivered into the box seven minutes after he had entered the pitch.
For the most part, however, I see little reason to bash the New York coach for the 1-0 defeat. Roy Miller rewarded Petke's faith in the much-maligned left back with his second consecutive solid performance. The Costa Rica international was guilty of one absolutely horrendous far-post cross late in the match, but that single moment of play doesn't erase all the good that Miller did against KC. Those wanting to blame a New York player for not doing enough while inside the attacking third need only look at the team's captain.
Thierry Henry found himself one-on-one against KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen in the 63rd minute. With Nielsen more of a spectator than a legitimate shot-stopper at that moment, Henry pushed the ball wide of the right post. A MLS designated player with Henry's talent and on Henry's salary has to bury that ten times out of ten.
Petke doesn't deserve blame for that miss-hit, just as you can't ridicule the coach for Juninho foolishly pelting Nielsen with the ball in stoppage time, a lapse in judgment that will likely cost the 38-year old a few games and some cash. It also wasn't Petke's fault that Jamison Olave, perfectly positioned to defend the corner that was swung into the RBNY penalty area 13 minutes into play, was out-muscled to the ball by man of the match Aurélien Collin, who headed home the lone tally of the match.
Sometimes, a side is just beaten by a better opponent.
That's the main point that sticks out 12 hours after the completion of Wednesday's game. Sporting KC are a very good team, one that's solid in the back and also fluid in producing attacks. The Red Bulls, a side with a new head coach and a plethora of fresh faces in the squad, don't have that chemistry yet. That doesn't mean they won't find what they're missing under Petke. It just means that Sporting KC are better than are RBNY in mid-April.
A lot can change between now and the end of October.
For more: Miller vs. PK laws
Zac has been covering New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer, Tottenham Hotspur, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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