LI native Mike Petke latest Red Bulls coach

Former player and coach Mike Petke was named

Former player and coach Mike Petke was named the 14th head coach of the New York Red Bulls. (May 15, 2011) (Credit: Getty Images)

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For someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, it was an appropriate gesture for Mike Petke to kiss his Red Bulls jersey after scoring in the first game at Red Bull Arena in 2010.

He wasn't showboating, just showing his affection for the club.

A fan favorite since he was drafted when the team was called the MetroStars in 1998, the Bohemia native was rewarded for his loyalty. On Jan. 14, he was named the 14th head coach in the club's 18-year history.

"You remember me as a player; one thing that we will do is fight from the first whistle to the last whistle," he said by phone last week from the club's training camp in Tucson, Ariz.

The 37-year-old Petke's passion runs deep because of his years with the team. He is a working-class coach who admittedly is a fan.

"To look back over the past 17 years that we actually have no trophies to show for it, it makes me sick in my stomach," he said. "To look at the supporters who come out, when we win a championship, it's going to be just as much for them to celebrate."

His hiring was well received. Team captain Thierry Henry called it "clever. Fans love him. He knows the league. That can only be a plus."

"For Petke to be manager is unbelievable for the club, the league," Australian midfielder Tim Cahill said. "He's everything about Red Bull."

The team's history is dotted with big-name coaches -- Carlos Alberto Parreira, Bora Milutinovic, Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley -- who did not win an MLS Cup. Petke has two years' experience as an assistant.

As the first former player to coach the Red Bulls, Petke is leading a culture change, planning to make sure players are as comfortable as possible.

Because the players are spread out throughout the metropolitan area, Petke wants cohesiveness. His first step allowed girlfriends and wives to attend preseason training in Bradenton, Fla.

"I never remember going out together as a team and getting to know each other off the field aside from road trips or preseason," he said. "I don't know if it is possible to show up once a week on the field and become clicked on and love and respect each other unless you spend time together off the field. We need to become a family."

Petke won the fans' hearts long ago. After scoring against Colorado in 2000, he stripped off his jersey to reveal a T-shirt that said, "Crime of the Century." He protested a vicious hit by Tampa Bay's Mamadou Diallo on goalkeeper Mike Ammann, who suffered broken ribs. Petke, who earned $30,000, was fined $250 by the league.

"I was angry at the league, at Diallo," he said. "I'm a risk-taker. I didn't care what was going to happen from the league. If it happened again, I would do the same thing. That's just how I live my life. It was a no-brainer."

Petke will limit that passion and use his brain more when the season starts at the Portland Timbers March 3.

He coaches in an area that demands winners.

"Let's not fool ourselves here. I am well aware and completely understanding of how much pressure I am under, and I am under extreme pressure," he said. "But it's not more than the pressure that I put myself under. I'm somebody with zero head-coaching experience . . . of the most marketed team in the league that has won zero championships."

If he doesn't win, Petke knows his fate.

"When the time comes that I am leaving Red Bull, and it is a given that day is going to come, there will be no hard feelings because I'm with the club that I love,'' he said. "I will still be a supporter of this club. I will be a season-ticket holder."

A Red Bull through and through.

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