Rookie coach Mike Petke has his hands full.
The newly minted general takes over a team that has undergone some major changes. Rafa, and the question as to whether he will show up, is gone. Kenny Cooper, and all of his 18 goals has been shipped to Dallas. Gone are all but one of the Swedes that used to dominate the RBNY roster.
The good side is that Petke is most certainly not Hans Backe, who was not offered a position after a disappointing end to last season amidst the snows of Harrison, New Jersey. Backe was sometimes accused of soft coaching, which mirrored the softness of the defense. It seemed that every time the Red Bulls took the field, the opposition scored an early goal.
Coach Petke seems anything but soft. He’s vocal, he’s emotional, and when he’s unhappy, his players will know it. Also, the Red Bulls shored up their defense, adding Kosuke Kimura and Jamison Olave. They added Brazilian legend Juninho, Fabian Espindola, and Ruben Izquierdo to attempt to produce more offense. And Petke seems to think that the new system will boost offensive creativity, something that was sorely lacking in Red Bulls matches last season.
“They are not robots,” Petke explained. “Maybe you can get away with that with the defenders … but as far as the attacking, we have such creative and free flowing type players, why would I bottle that up? Let them go, let them do their thing. There of course is going to be some structure, there is going to be starting points, there is going to be a way we are going to go but there is not going to be a cap on that. They are going to go out and do their thing.”
It’s clear that much of the Red Bulls success this season will ride on how well coach Petke manages his troops. Certainly the infusion of so many new pieces may take some time to gel. It’s never easy forecasting the success of a Red Bulls squad from year to year. This season is truly no different.
Will Henry find chemistry with new partner Espindola? Will the midfield led by Juninho, Dax McCarty, and Eddie Cahill be solid enough to support the attack? Will the defense find their stride and stop the leaks? If this new system fails, the Red Bulls don’t stand a chance. If Petke’s new scheme does find success, the world is this squad’s oyster.
One issue the Red Bulls may have, especially early on, is with depth in goal. Ryan Meara will begin the season still recovering from surgery, and although Red Bull Academy product Santino Casano seems promising, Luis Robles will not have many chances for a break early in this season.
As with any squad that undergoes as many changes, from the front office all the way down to the field, as RBNY has, it will take some time for this army to find its identity. At the end of the day, that’s what is going to determine the Red Bulls success. The faster they can gel as a squad, and find their ever-elusive identity, the more success they will have.