MLS Features: Unhappy Petke poised to make changes

The Sports NetworkApril 1, 2014 

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Red Bull New York head coach Mike Petke is not happy.

Why would he be when his beloved New York team, of which he was a player for seven seasons, is winless through its first four games of the season?

Petke thought Sunday would be the day that the reigning Supporters' Shield winners would get their first victory, but when an unnecessary foul from Richard Eckersley in the box afforded visiting Chivas USA a first-half penalty, which Erick Torres buried with ease, the Red Bulls were left to play catch-up.

New York struggled for the majority of the opening period, but the second half was an entirely different story. The home side peppered the Chivas net with a plethora of shots and the Red Bulls could have found themselves in front by multiple goals, if not for the superb shot-stopping display put on by Dan Kennedy.

It wasn't until the final minute of stoppage time that New York managed to equalize as a corner kick from Eric Alexander was nodded in by Peguy Luyindula, perhaps the man least likely to even the score.

Now, Chivas has proven through its first four games of the season that it will not play the role of the doormat like it had in previous campaigns. The Goats entered Sunday's contest at Red Bull Arena with four points from three games, but the general level of play from Wilmer Cabrera's side has been quite impressive compared to seasons past.

Petke, though, did not let that fact cloud his deep-rooted belief that his side should have left Sunday's contest with three points.

"It was much better in the second half," Petke said after the match. "Overall, our organization, our desire, our ability to create chances and get forward. But at this point, four games in, there is still a lot that we need to clean up, obviously. A lot. I can't put my finger on it, specifically the first half. But to say that I wasn't happy in the first half would probably be the understatement of the year.

"The second half was a good response. I thought we saw some very good play, specifically certain players. ... But let's put things in perspective: We tied Chivas in the (94th minute) at home. A better Chivas team than last year, for sure. I think they've done well there. But we tied Chivas at home in the 90th minute, so that's not good enough."

Petke was quick to point out that "there is no panic button," stating that the Red Bulls have taken more points from their first four games this year than they did last term. But that did stop the second-year head coach from putting some of the club's players on red alert.

"I'm not happy with a lot of things," Petke continued in his post-match press conference. "And I don't want to make any bold statements. I don't want to do what Mike Petke usually does, comes in and flies off and says things. But I'm going to take a very close look at this reserve game today, to be honest with you. And I'm going to pay very close attention to the reserve players throughout this week. Because there has to come a point that some of these kids are given an opportunity that they deserve. That's all I'm going to say."

The Red Bulls boss stressed that he does not plan to make wholesale changes to his matchday lineups, and why would he? The club, after all, made minimal changes from a squad that took home the Supporters' Shield last season.

But there still stands a reason for Petke to inject a bit of youth into the side. The only questions are who the Red Bulls boss could deploy and who makes way.

Starting with the latter, Eckersley appears to be the odd man out. The former Toronto FC defender limped off the pitch on Sunday with a right ankle sprain, which could make for a case of addition by subtraction given how he has stumbled out of the blocks this season. Eckersley has conceded two penalties through his first four games with the Red Bulls and he's also looked quite vulnerable on the right side of defense while failing to offer up much going forward. In short, he's easily replaceable.

Connor Lade figures to be the most qualified player for Petke to slot into the lineup in Eckersley's relief. The 24-year-old Lade was somewhat of a regular during Hans Backe's tenure with the Red Bulls, playing in 26 of 34 regular season games. He's capable of playing anywhere along the back line, though at 5-foot-7, he would be best-suited to play on either the left or right side of defense.

If Petke wishes to go in another direction, he could opt to hand playing time to Chris Duvall, who was selected by the Red Bulls out of Wake Forest University with the 22nd overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. Duvall, a regular with the Demon Deacons, played 14 college games at right-back in 2013, making him a more natural replacement for Eckersley than Lade.

Going forward, Eric Stevenson would provide Petke with an enticing option on the right flank. Stevenson, 23, was drafted by New York out of the University of Akron - the MLS talent mill - with the 34th overall pick in 2014. He enjoyed a banner day in New York's reserve match against the Dayton Dutch Lions on Sunday, scoring one and assisting on two in the club's 3-0 victory.

There is not much more Petke would be able to alter given the wealth of talent at his disposal. Surely, Petke will not bench Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill or Dax McCarty, and Jonny Steele, when healthy, has established himself as a valuable asset on the left flank. Deploying Stevenson out wide on the right would allow Petke to rotate players into the open position in the middle of the field with Alexander, Luyindula, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam all capable of filling the void.

No blueprint exists for righting the winless Red Bulls ship, but Petke has options, and that should be enough to see his unhappiness subside for the time being.

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