A practice tête-à-tête between New York Red Bulls’ head coach Mike Petke and team captain Thierry Henry made headlines two weeks ago, possibly pointing to a major fracture within the team.
The ensuing benching of Henry during a DC United victory only further fanned the speculation.
While much of the “disagreement” remains up in the air, one fact is undeniable; the Red Bulls are undefeated in two games since the clash, looking as focused and dominant as they have all season long.
Was the Henry/Petke clash the catalyst to it all?
“Whatever that disagreement was about, which is not something I will get into because it’s a team related thing, from that, you can draw any conclusion you want and it’s possibly all going to be right,” Petke told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
While not fully acknowledging that the confrontation has led to their recent form, the rookie head coach did not deny the correlation either.
“From that, there is a clear understanding now,” he said. “From that, everybody is 100% on page because of things that went down. From that, everybody has a clear understanding of the tactics, from how we are going to press to what we want to accomplish.
“Without a doubt,” he continues, “it could be one thing related to the other, or it could just be a product of each other. It happened we had a situation and now that we had a good win on the weekend, players are standing up.”
While fans and media speculated over the source of the disagreement, the Red Bulls used the opportunity to clear the air over any confusion there may have been between the technical staff and players over the direction of the team.
“I’ve said it all along. I am a new coach. Perhaps at certain times when I think things are going well, deep down inside, we weren’t being specific enough,” Petke acknowledged. “I’ve said that phrase many times. I came to the realization not long ago with the coaching staff, we were not being specific enough with certain things.
“Over the last two weeks, we have been extremely specific – extremely as far as I am concerned,” he said. “Does that mean we are going to go 6-0 now and win the MLS Cup? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. What it does mean is that at the end of the day, we can easily point things out and say this is what we went over, exactly like this, so there are no excuses.
“The players like that a lot better and it makes my life easier to identify things,” he explains. “I know that might have been vague but that’s the answer I can come up with for you.”
Whether their recent success was worth all the headaches remains to be seen. One thing Petke will not deny is the fact that his dust-up with Henry was bound to occur.
“It was something inevitable that had to happen,” Petke said. “I am not just saying with Thierry and I; in a long season like this, it’s inevitable personalities will clash. Through that, what came out in that disagreement and in the aftermath, an open, candid conversation with everybody, really made us stronger as a team. That is all I would say about that.
“I can assure you,” he concludes, “every single players knows what is expected of them and every player is on board. Not that they weren’t before, but there is no doubt now. No doubt now.”