Mike Petke signs autographs at Lockhart Stadium on Jan. 31, 1998, the day he was drafted by the MetroStars. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
In wake of Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke’s $10,000 fine and two-game suspension, here is a look back at his passion during his playing days that was written a few years ago.
By Michael Lewis
As a player, Mike Petke just about had seen it all.
He was a first-round draft choice, won over the fans with a message on a shirt, was red carded for kissing a soccer ball during a match, play on an MLS Cup champion, got another shot with his hometown team and scored on opening night of Red Bull Arena.
Asked what his most memorable moments during his 13-year MLS career was, Petke replied, “There are many and I will narrow it down to two. These are not the two that are stand out that are head and shoulders over everything. First of all, being drafted. The second thing was scoring on opening night at Red Bull Arena. If you want to break it down, the first American to score. Joel Lindpere had the first goal. He reminds me about it all the time. I’ll take the first American, the first hometown New Yorker to score in that stadium.”
Petke had another great memory to add to that list, although it had “nothing to do with actual soccer, but it has to do playing for Red Bulls — we’ll say New York — and the opportunities has given me.”
“After 911, I was on the stage at Madison Square Garden in front of a sold-out audience of mostly firefighters and police. Not only that, to represent New York and to be handed a microphone and speak to the crowd, I mean it’s one of those moments that define my life. It’s something that I have never forgotten about. Every day I think about it. I can speak about this forever. That time post 911 was one of the most difficult time of my life.”
Here are some of the 42-year-old Petke’s most memorable moments in MLS, in his own words, when possible:
Getting caught in the draft (1998)
Petke was taken in the first draft of the 1998 college draft, which was held outside at Lockhart Stadium in conjunction with the college all-star game in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Bohemia, N.Y. native was selected eighth overall by the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, who were based in East Rutherford, N.Y. Even though Petke lived 80 miles and two bridges away from the team’s headquarters and stadium, it was his hometown team, in MLS terms.
He had blond hair at the time and wound up signing autographs for the fans during the draft.
“It was phenomenal. The way it happened, it was a bit anti-climactic. I actually found out. I was down there for the college all-star game and at halftime one of my teammates said, ‘Hey, congratulations.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I heard on the loudspeaker that you got drafted by the [MetroStars].’ Obviously, the league has come very, very long way with the draft on ESPN and everything. It definitely was not like it back then. Obviously, the second half of that game was a highlight of that year; playing in that game and knowing that I’m playing for my hometown team and getting picked in the first round. It was phenomenal coming home and celebrating with my family. It was wonderful. It was a great experience.”
A red card sealed with a kiss (1999)
It was during the depths of the utterly forgettable 1999 season that Petke received a red card from referee Michael Kennedy for one of the most unusual things a player can do on the field — kiss the soccer ball. It was in the MetroStars’ 4-1 loss to D.C. United at Giants Stadium on Aug. 14.
“It was one of those things,” Petke said. “I was marking Jaime Moreno, one of the best forwards in the history of the league. D.C. was our heated rivals. What I remember was that I was getting called for fouls that were touch fouls. As aggressive as I am, it was more like I was going to foul him. If I was getting called for these things, like I did, I argued with the ref. He gave me a yellow. You say one more word and you will get thrown out of the game.
“The next foul that was BS, I picked the ball up and instead of saying anything, I kissed the ball and handed it to him. It was a just such a reaction thing. I don’t remember what I meant by it, to be honest with you. I was so angry in the heat of the moment. Probably hopped up on eight cups of coffee before the game. I just did a reaction thing. I remember walking off the field with so much adrenaline in me and flipping out. I get into the locker room. I believe my dad came into the locker room and I’m in the shower and he looked at me and said, ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ That was a defining moment in my career.”
An amazing shirt tale (2000)
This incident is etched into MetroStars/Red Bulls lore. Every club fan worth his or her damn knows about this incident. If you don’t here it is again:
MetroStars goalkeeper Mike Ammann was hospitalized with broken ribs and other injuries after Tampa Bay Mutiny striker Mamadou Diallo ran into his in a match in Tampa, Fla. on Aug. 16. Diallo was not awarded a yellow card. The MetroStars were incensed. So was Petke, who decided to do something about it. Four days later, the MetroStars played the Colorado Rapids. Petke scored a goal in what turned into a 5-3 triumph at Giants Stadium. Petke took off his MetroStars jersey to reveal a t-shirt that read in the front:
Crime of the Century
Revenge is Coming
Petke, who was earned $30,000 a year at the time, was fined $250 by the league. That sealed his fate as a fan favorite.
“First and foremost, the reason behind doing it was not to impress anybody or to gain any favoritism,” Petke said. “Quite bluntly, I was extremely pissed on what happened. Not only to one of my teammates, but to be there five yards from it and see it go down, no remorse so ever afterwards. To me was a crime. On top of that, I don’t believe there was a foul called. Who you are as a team is how you treat each other and how you become a family. No matter what team I ever played on, I took it almost blindly to adhere to that. They are my teammates thick and thin. You have to stand by your teammates. Whenever one of my teammates got knocked down, I would be the first one over there to be either shoving the guy who knocked him down or to be picking up my teammate. I was pissed. I was angry at the league. I was angry at Diallo for doing that. I had a teammate who was playing very well and a key part of our team that year laying in hospital not knowing what his career would be like right now.
“I’m a risk taker. I didn’t care what was going to happen from the league fine-wise or suspension or anything. I didn’t care. If it happened again I would do the same thing again. That’s just how I live my life. It was a no-brainer to me. I remember I was just thinking, ‘I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to show my anger. How can I show the way I feel?’
“The funny thing was I didn’t want to take my shirt off unless I scored. Ironically, I scored that day. I don’t know if it was fate or it was meant to be, whatever. it worked out perfectly and it got my point across.”
The departed (2002)
In a blockbuster trade with United Dec. 23, 2002, Petke was dealt, along with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 MLS Super Draft (it turned out to be David Stokes) and an allocation for defender Eddie Pope, and midfielder Richie Williams and Moreno. Needless to say, it came as a shock.
“Let me tell you something, it was the end of my world for a short moment,” he said. “Then I snapped back into place and realized a couple of things. I realized that this is a business, this is what I signed on to be a part of. Nothing’s guaranteed in life. I also noticed a small part of me, I needed a change. I’m not going to say I became too comfortable here, but sometimes in life you need to go out and explore other things and find out how the other side lives. In that respect, when I came back, I realized that this is the best organization in what they provide for us and how they treat us. It was a good learning experience.
“I was pretty close of signing on to a team in Germany a year or so before that. I turned to our GM at the time and I said ‘Listen, I want a no trade clause.’ He said, ‘You can’t do that. The league said no.’ He then turned to me and said, ‘Mike, are you going to sign this long-term contract and get rid of you? You’re on posters right now. You’re part of our tickets. You’re this.’ And I believed it. The reason why I wanted that no trade clause was because if I’m in Germany or I’m in D.C., to be that’s the same exact thing. It’s not New York. So they could give that to do and I trusted it [he laughs a bit]. Unfortunately, that’s how things worked out. I was able to win a championship, experienced that and now I’m back where I started and where I want to be.”
When the MLS Cup runneth over (2004)
While learning how the other side live, Petke managed to live one of his dream and achieve one of his goals — to be on an MLS Cup winning side. He was a member of the United team that captured the 2004 MLS championship as D.C. registered a 3-2 win over the Kansas City Wizards at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. on Nov. 14.
“I’ll tell you. I’ve always somebody who has always lived in the now and played in the now,” he said. “But there are certain things in my life that I looked to the future for. I remember being at a point in 2002 and 2003 and seeing myself looking around the league and seeing so many good players who had never won a championship. I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to go through and have a long career and have nothing to show for it in a way.’ I just remember winning that championship, feeling so much happiness and having so much weight that I put on my shoulders off of it. It was a very frozen in time moment. It lasted a very long time. That immediate whistle to the end of the night when we stopped partying and it was wonderful. I remember immediately after winning saying to myself, ‘I want this feeling again. I want to feel this feeling again.’ Not being able to live that again, especially in New York when I came back, has been something that has been on my mind. I want this club to reach the top. They do so much for us. The supporters do so much for us. I want them to feel what I felt that day and I am hoping that will happen.”
Waiving hello to New York (2008)
If you’re patient enough, sometimes things do go your way. When Petke had an opportunity to return to the metropolitan area after the 2008 season, he was willing to give up his no-trade clause in his contract. The Red Bulls picked up Petke on waivers Nov. 26, 2008.
“Most things in life never work out exactly how you want them,” he said. “This is a very big exception. I remember going in at the end of the season and speaking to the coach, Gary Smith, with whom I had a very good relationship. He was great. He just took over and he wanted to rebuild, and I had a guaranteed contract. I had spoken to my agent earlier saying that I don’t want to play here anymore, I want to go back to New York. He said let me figure some things out. Then we went into the meeting. We had a very good conversation. He told me, ‘I don’t think we’re going to have you back next year,’ and this and that. I said, ‘I understand. I want move on as well.’ We agreed. I wanted to be released because the waiver draft was that day and New York had a very high pick. I got word back from my agent that they were interested and literally an hour later because I asked, and Gary was great about it — he could have held me on and tried to get something for me — [he was picked up by the Red Bulls].
“It just worked out perfectly. Just a half hour after having that conversation, I was a New York red Bull. I remember celebrating with my wife. It was really one of the happier moments because I was gone for so long. I knew my career was playing down, but I knew had something left. I just wanted desperately to be back with this club. Things ever hardly work out perfectly, but this was the most perfect scenario.”
What a grand opening night (2010)
The best screenplay writer in history would have been hard-pressed to plot out the grand opening of Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. on March 20 any better. Not only was Petke the team captain that night, taking over for the injured Juan Pablo Angel, he scored the second goal in a 3-1 victory over Santos (Brazil).
Petke celebrated by grabbing his white shirt, kissing the stadium patch and then pumping his right fist into the air in front of the cheering supporters.
“I’ll tell you, I’m getting a little emotional right now,” Petke said. “I’m getting goose bumps and everything because that was another one of those moments in time that kind of stands still. Packed stadium. I was actually the captain that night. The first game ever at Red Bull Area and I am walking out as captain. A corner kick comes, and I just kept my run going. Tim Ream, my buddy, got the ball across and I put it in. It was just one of those moments. The second I scored, I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ It was unbelievable. The adrenaline that went through my body was incredible. To this day, that is by far, one of the most highlighted moments of my career.”