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What if Mike Petke had been made coach at the end of 2016?

Would the 2017 season have gone differently with Petke at the helm for a full year?

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

One of the interesting things about these 'thought experiments' is to see how other peoples’ views and opinions differ from your own. So let's go back to the end of the 2016 MLS season.

October 26th: Freshly eliminated by LA Galaxy, RSL returns to Utah. While preparing for the post-season interviews, Craig Waibel with Dell Loy Hansen reach the conclusion that it was time for a change. Jeff Cassar's contract is not renewed, and Waibel begins the search for a new coach. The rumor mill churns through the usual names: Schmid, Savarese, and of course Petke. Fast forward to early December, just in time for the MLS Cup; RSL announces that Petke will take the helm. His first decision is to make any additions and deletions to the protected list for the expansion draft.

With present knowledge looking back, his hiring takes place after Javier Morales has already been told his contract won't be renewed, and after Juan Manuel Martinez has decided to leave. So what would the protected list look like for 2016?

Protected list projection

Cassar Petke
Cassar Petke
Kyle Beckerman Jeff Attinella
Tony Beltran Kyle Beckerman
Juan Martinez Tony Beltran
Aaron Maund Juan Martinez
Yura Movsisyan Aaron Maund
Luke Mulholland Yura Movsisyan
Stephen Sunday Luke Mulholland
Demar Phillips Stephen Sunday
Joao Plata Demar Phillips
Nick Rimando Joao Plata
Chris Schuler Nick Rimando

The only change I think Petke would make is picking Jeff Attinella over Chris Schuler. Logically, “Burrito” could have been unprotected since had already decided to return to Argentina, but due to MLS rules we had to protect him. That leaves Schuler as the odd man out. Yes, he worked his way back to the first team through hard work, but he is still prone to injury. That is enough to keep the expansion teams from picking him.

In the background of all of this, the spectre of Javi's departure looms. Would Petke have managed to bring the two sides together? Quite frankly, I don't think he could have - the bridges had been burned in November, and by late Dec. he had already signed with Dallas.

With Attinella remaining as backup GK, there would be no need to pick up Matt Van Oekel; the Albert Rusnak deal would still go through, and during the draft we still probably pick the same players thanks to Weibel's influence. For simplicity, I'll predict that Chad Barrett, David Horst and Luis Silva are all brought in for depth.

Flash forward to pre-season 2017. The team checks in, has their physicals and heads to Arizona. The team's first friendly against Petke's old team New York Red Bulls is a proving ground for both players and coach; RSL wins and Petke feels vindicated. Heading to Cascadia for the Portland Timbers tournament, the team continues to show well. Chemistry begins to build between Rusnak and the veterans; the 'fallout' between Petke and certain players is resolved before the season starts.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

RSL starts the MLS season a bit differently with a narrow win over Toronto and a draw vs LA before traveling to Petke's first visit back in New York, where he's given a rousing welcome by Red Bull fans. The injury bug that hit RSL fully in April, May and June still strikes, but Petke picks some different players for the lineup — flipping some of the losses into draws, not to mention improving the terrible goal differential.

With the better results in the very close Western Conference, RSL places first in the West and faces Houston. With the team's great form at the end of the season, the Semi's go RSL's way and they move on to face the Sounders. A fierce two game series eventually sees the Sounders move on due to the away goal rule. Petke's contract is extended long term and looks to continue on his excellent start.