Petke’s mind games motivate Red Bulls to historic victory


The New York Red Bulls were winless in four matches heading into New England. The World Cup snatched Tim Cahill and Roy Miller away, while the brutal New England turf kept Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave out of contention. The team hadn’t won in Gillette Stadium since 2002.

Before the season even began, this was surely a fixture most fans and pundits chalked into the loss column for the visiting Red Bulls.

Clearly, that did not happen.

Instead of avoiding the negative narrative, New York boss Mike Petke embraced it — and used it to his advantage.

With a rookie centerback in the middle and a converted fullback and midfielder set to take on the first-place Revolution, Petke knew his team would need more than just a solid tactical game plan to get past New England. Putting players into position to win would be half the battle; getting them to believe in victory was quite another.

It was time to give his team some motivation — and New England handed it to him on a silver platter.

“I challenged the guys beforehand,” he said after the match. “I really wanted them to have a chip on their shoulder.”

Petke didn’t just resort to pointing at the absence of Henry, Cahill and Olave from the match to ignite his side. He made it personal.

Days prior to the match, Gillette Stadium was covered in natural grass for an international fixture between Portugal and Mexico. New England made sure to rip up the surface immediately after that encounter, despite the possibility of enjoying the field for their match against New York.

Knowing Henry and Olave could not perform on turf, it is conceivable that the Revolution were looking for an edge.

Petke took that notion one step further.

“A lot of talk was made about the grass that was put down on Friday here — beautiful sod — and the amount of money they paid for it, just to rip it up the next day when we were coming. I don’t blame them at all,” he said. “Honestly, I would do the same thing if they had an Henry and Olave that would miss it.

“So I thought about that, but what I challenged these guys, perhaps a little bit of gamesmanship on my part with them, but I said ‘this is what they think of you. They’re really focused on two guys who won’t make it, and they don’t think much of you.’”

The result of those mind games was an ugly, scrappy, counter-attack heavy performance akin to the kind of matches that led New York to the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. Both Lloyd Sam and Bobby Convey kept the team fluid down the flanks. Ibrahim Sekagya played a vicious defensive midfield role. Most of all, Luis Robles led from the backline, supporting a shaky, makeshift defense en route to a shutout.

“We have a great locker room,” Robles said. “Losing four in a row, you can start to point fingers at people, but that doesn’t happen here. The guys are very positive, and everyone believes in each other. That’s our belief, We knew we could get three points this week and we did. We were lucky to get the first goal which put us in a great spot and we played well after.”

It may not have been pretty, but New York certainly looked inspired through most of Sunday’s encounter. Did Petke’s message spark New York to victory? “By all means, I’m not saying that that is the reason why we got the result,” he admits, “but I wanted them to have a chip on their shoulder about that, and perhaps they did a little bit.”

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